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The Beach party is on.
The Long Beach State women’s volleyball team improved to 4-1 on Saturday night in the Walter Pyramid, easily sweeping Notre Dame in a match that showed why expectations are so high for this new-look squad. The Beach’s only loss of the year was a five-set thriller to No. 19 Oregon, and it’s easy to see why the 1,500 fans in the Pyramid were having such a good time watching their team. Long Beach is fast, fiery, and fun, and clearly enjoyed themselves en route to a 25-21, 25-23, 25-23 victory.
“It’s been a big change for me playing with that kind of joy,” said setter Zayna Meyer, who set the team to a .152 attack percentage in the match, with 32 assists and 17 digs, as well as five blocks. “A big thing here is playing free and playing for each other, and I’ve felt that a lot the last few weeks. I haven’t had coaches that want me to just play free and love the game the way we have here.”
Other leaders for the Beach included Morgan Chacon, who had 10 kills on .143 hitting, nine digs, and a block; Natalie Glenn, who had 10 kills, seven digs and two aces; and Katie Kennedy, who had five kills and five blocks.
Chacon and Glenn echoed Meyer’s comments about the special experience brewing at the Beach for this year’s team. Chacon was a standout at Florida State and said her experience in Long Beach has been unique.
“This is the best experience I’ve had, just truly playing for my teammates,” she said. “Playing in the Pyramid was awesome, being in a gym where the fans are true lovers of volleyball and really appreciate the sport, that was really cool.”
The players also credited first-year head coach (and LBSU alum) Tyler Hildebrand for helping to build that positive culture. Hildebrand didn’t want to take too much credit for it, but he said that for he and his coaching staff (who’ve coached at the NCAA and national team level) it’s definitely been a singular occurrence.
“Our story is a bunch of women coming together, it’s a challenge to have new coaches and players come together, and for whatever reason these women are doing that,” he said. “All of us (coaches) are incredibly impressed with how close they are, how much they play for each other, how they don’t get rattled.”
That was clear in the match against the Fighting Irish, as the Beach would go up by five points then give up four points in a run to Notre Dame. It was also clear how much the team is playing for each other. Last year’s setter, Tia Chavira, subbed in and served up an ace in the second set–she was greeted coming off the court as though she’d just hit a game-winning homerun in Game 7 of the World Series.
The road does get tougher for Long Beach State (4-1), as the Beach will hit the road to play at No. 2 Nebraska next Saturday evening. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Hildebrand, who coached with the Huskers before taking the head job at his alma mater.
“It’s really fun to play there, it’s loud, but they appreciate good volleyball,” he said. “We want that crowd and that stage to bring out the best of us–we’re underdogs, but if we play like we did against Oregon we’ll have a chance to play volleyball with them. We scheduled that match because I wanted our girls to see what it’s like at the top. We’re trying to build something like that again.”
The Beach will return to the Pyramid Saturday, Sept. 17, to host Loyola Marymount.