This is the fifth of 10 stories about the best Long Beach youth sports teams we’ve seen over the last decade. We’ve taken nominations from the community and will release the top 10 in no particular order. Come back next week to read about other club squads that made this historic list.
The incredibly talented group of Mizuno Long Beach girls’ volleyball players who would’ve been the 16-year-old team for the local club this year is making our list because they have the complete package with tournament titles, individual accomplishments, parental support and a well-organized club setup.
Current Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits Adonia Faumuina and Rylie McGinest led this group to multiple tournament wins and top five age-group finishes in their last three trips to the Junior Olympics.
“I had a blast coaching this team,” said Carlos Briceno, who coached them at Mizuno two years ago. “It was so much fun and they were so athletic. We just presented so many problems with our athleticism.”
Long Beach State alum and current women’s volleyball coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer started Mizuno Long Beach Volleyball Club in 1995 after she helped LBSU win the 1993 National Championship. Her coach Brian Gimmillaro had a successful club of his own, and showed McKienzie-Fuerbringer the ropes.
Mizuno has been wildly successful on and off the court with more than 30 National Championship medals across all age groups. Last year, Mizuno sent six teams to the Girls Junior National Championships in Indianapolis and all of them finished in the top 10.
Faumuina and McGinest were named to the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships All-Tournament team after stealing the spotlight in a gathering of the best players in the nation. They also earned USA Volleyball youth camp invites and both current Poly juniors are committed to attend USC. Faumuina was also one of seven sophomores named to the 15s All-American list at outside hitter by Volleyball Magazine.
“She has this leadership quality in her,” Briceno said. “She kind of brings everybody together. A lot of the girls look up to her. When you see someone as gifted as her and she’s working hard, it kind of makes you want to work just as hard.”
Briceno, who is the Wilson High girls’ volleyball coach, knows firsthand how hard it is to play against talents like Faumuina and McGinest who can both touch 10 feet.
“(McGinest) was more of the workhorse in that group,” Briceno said. “She really does all of the blue collar work in the middle. You have to respect her and know where she’s at on the court. She’ll go to the outside to close the block, get back off the net, go back up again and she does it all with a smile. She’s just a great kid and super skilled.”
The reason Briceno coached this group and others is because at Mizuno Long Beach the coaches stay in the same age group, so the group was coached by LBSU beach coach Mike Campbell, St. Joseph High coach Lance Aoki, Briceno and McKienzie-Fuerbringer.
“We have a certain system we run in a certain technique and they all teach that,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “Then they adjust that to the level of play or maybe adjust the offense to something faster or slower or whatever they need to do according to what level they’re at. All of our coaches do a good job of that.”
McKienzie-Fuerbringer said that has been an advantage for her club at all age levels.
“Their technique can progress into those systems throughout those years,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “They don’t have to change things or learn something else which might set them back a little bit. Our climate works.”
That climate has been improved by the parents of this group on and off the court. Some of the parents used their own iPads to film future opponents for Briceno to scout.
“I had 13 girls that year and not everyone gets to play all the time,” Briceno recalled. “You look at the parents of the kids who aren’t getting as much playing time, and not enough gets said about those parents. Sometime they have to go home and console their kids and teach them life lessons and skills about being accountable and working hard and not giving up. They weren’t turning it around and pointing the figure at me. Instead they tried to make it a teachable moment for their kids. They did a really great job and that’s when you know you have some really special families at our club.”
Briceno also got help from these parents at the first qualifying tournament in Colorado — one of the toughest in the country. The squad was brimming with confidence, but lost their first match. Briceno said he got visibly upset and the parents told him to calm down and that their girls always started slow.
He took their advice, and they won the qualifier. Briceno recalled that fighting off multiple set points in the semifinal victory was a turning point for the whole group.
The first word that came to McKienzie-Fuerbringer’s mind when thinking of this group was ‘family.’
“They’ve created a culture and I don’t think that teams are successful without the parents’ support at the club level,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.
“There’s a fine line between being overly involved and being the support group and that group has been so supportive, led by Fia (Faumuina) and Willie (McGinest) and a bunch of other great parents in the area. They’re a family.”
McKienzie-Fuerbringer knows that wins and a positive culture at her club will only perpetuate the success they’ve already had.
“I tell my kids, ‘Every time you step on the court, those teams know you wear Mizuno and they’re gonna give you their best game. You can’t ever slack off’,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “My message to them is that every time you you step on the court (the opponent) is going to give you their best game.”
This isn’t the only Mizuno Long Beach squad that will make our list, so come back for next week to read about our next top 10 Long Beach youth sports team of the decade.
PICTURED Back Row from Left to Right: Coach Kara Girl, Liv Hertzog, Shanelle Puetz, Rylie McGinest, Mele Corral-Blagojevich , Kamy Anaya , Adonia Faumuina, Laura Williams, Jordyn Schilling. Front row from left to right: Coach Carlos Briceno, Tainea Allen, Caitlin Du, Mandi Morioka, Nina Hall, Maya De Los Reyes, Leanna Tolentino, Coach Fia Faumuina