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As far as first impressions go the Long Beach State women’s volleyball team and first-year coach Tyler Hildebrand left a good one in their home opener on Thursday night. The Beach bounced back from a slow start to take down Boise State 21-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-18 before a great crowd of 1,410 at Walter Pyramid.
“I’ve told these girls since the first day I got that job that our first goal isn’t to play volleyball, it’s to get this community excited about this team again,” Hildebrand said. “It felt really cool to have that support (tonight) and I think there’s going to be even more people on Saturday night.”
The match was part of the Long Beach State Tournament, and it will continue on Saturday at 7 p.m. when LBSU (3-1) hosts Notre Dame.
“I think we were all a little bit nervous but I think it was pretty incredible to see all of the community coming to support us,” LBSU setter Zayna Meyer said. “Knowing they had our backs was pretty cool.”
Meyer only had one error and 44 assists on the night while Morgan Chacon racked up a game-high 21 kills for the Beach. Sophomore Natalie Glenn chipped in 11 kills, 14 digs and a service ace.
“This is a really good confidence builder, for not just us but also the community and what we’re capable of,” Meyer added.
Despite being a team full of transfers and first-year players, LBSU looked cohesive and composed throughout the a tight first two sets.
“You can just feel the unity,” said sophomore Savana Chacon, who finished with 17 digs and a game-high three aces. “When we were going, everybody was up. And when we were down they had our backs so we just fed off of that. It was super cool to be in that atmosphere for the first time. We’re so lucky. The amount of gratitude I have right now to come in here and feel so loved and welcomed. My face hurt I was smiling so much. It was awesome and I’m super excited for this season.”
The victory was obviously the first one at home for coach and alum Hildebrand, who was an All-American at LBSU.
“I didn’t think about it that much,” he said. “I’ve won a lot of matches in this gym, so it felt pretty similar. It’s just such a joy to coach these girls right now, there’s something special going on.”
Boise State (2-1) used its physicality and a few LBSU errors to take a 6-1 lead in the first set that forced Hildebrand to take an early timeout. During the break, he told his team that they could have a pass because they were nervous, and that the situation was perfect for their personality as a group.
“We’re building an underdog mindset,” he said after the match. “We’ve got girls who have come from different programs where maybe haven’t had the success they want to have, so what do we have to lose? We have bigger dreams than where we’ve been, and we want to keep playing with our backs against the wall.”
The Beach responded with a 4-0 run that calmed their nerves, but the Broncos held on for the first set victory.
There were 11 ties in the thrilling second set until middler blocker Callie Schwarzenbach won a joust at the net to put LBSU up 22-21. Kailia Lopez then took the ball behind the line to serve, and came up with a pair of digs on the ensuing rally before Kameron Bacon’s block added to the LBSU lead. Savana Chacon sealed the second set victory 25-22 with the first ace of the night for the Beach.
“Once we got the first set jitters off we started to flow and we started to play our game,” said senior Dylan De La Cruz, who had a game-high 19 digs. “We have so much trust between each other that we can trust each other to play our part.”
The LBSU defense was stout all night while holding Boise State to a .113 hitting percentage. Broncos star outside hitter Paige Bartsch only had 15 kills on 46 swings.
“We’re going to continue to find ways to fight through the not perfect stuff and then play like we did in sets three and four, which is a pretty good brand of volleyball,” Hildebrand said.
The Beach offense seemed to get better as the match went on with the redshirt freshman Meyer feeding Morgan Chacon all over the court. The redshirt junior only had four errors on 51 swings.
“She’s a stud and a player I can trust no matter the situation,” Meyer said of Chacon. “She’s very consistent and she has a lot of creativity with how she hits the ball. I feel her (on the court) and she’s really fun to set.”
LBSU will have another stout challenge with Notre Dame on Saturday, and Hildebrand said he’s not concerned with an emotional hangover hurting his team.
“We’re a good team, and we want volleyball to take care of itself,” he said. “Our goal it to bring all of these new players and coaches together and to have the joy in the game in a positive environment. That’s going to be the X factor for us. That’s going to be the same every day, no matter if we won or lost today, we have to come back on Saturday.”