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The562’s coverage of Long Beach State athletics for the 2022-23 season is sponsored by Marilyn Bohl.
With the conference schedule just barely at its midway point, it’s still early in the season for a “must-win” match. Still, the Long Beach State women’s volleyball team needed a win Saturday night in the Walter Pyramid against Cal Poly to stay in the Big West title hunt, with its automatic NCAA Tournament berth. The Beach got exactly that in a five-set thriller over Cal Poly, picking up their eighth win in a row with a 25-18, 22-25, 25-16, 16-25, 15-13 decision.
First-year Beach coach Tyler Hildebrand acknowledged that his team is aware of the standings, which now have them up to third place but just one match out of second and two out of first place, with matches ahead against both teams they trail.
“The sports psychology on this is all over the place,” he said with a smile. “The easy answer is, you take it one day at a time, one match at a time. But as competitors who dream big about things we think we’re capable of, we know that the start of our season put us in a situation where a lot of our matches feel that way. We know that, we don’t really talk about it a lot. But we know that it’s hard to get into the postseason in our conference unless you win it, and as long as there’s a chance to do that we’re going to keep trying.”
The Beach’s effort was impressive Saturday evening. After winning the first set in impressive fashion, they lost a second frame that saw Cal Poly win three late challenges to take the set, then bounced back for a dominant third set win. When the Mustangs won the fourth, that set up a winner-take-all fifth set with high stakes. Fortunately for the Beach, they’re familiar with that situation–it’s their fifth five-set match as part of this eight-match win streak. Just like the last four times, the Beach prevailed.
“These five set battled where it’s up and down, I feel like our team is together all the time, on the court and the bench,” said outside hitter Morgan Chacon, who led the way with 14 kills. “There’s not a moment where I don’t feel like everyone has our back.”
Setter Zayna Meyer had 42 assists and five blocks, while libero Dylan Dela Cruz continued her excellent season with 23 digs. Most of the Beach’s roster is pretty new–Dela Cruz has been here for years, both as a fan while attending Long Beach Poly and as a player who’s seen the program’s ups and downs.
“It’s bittersweet that it’s my last semester, I’m just playing my heart out to bring back the legacy that we once had,” she said.
The Beach also had 14 blocks, a big number for a team that was struggling to block with intent for much of the year.
“We’ve been taking blocking personally, in the gym we’re focused on having more aggressiveness,” said middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach, who had six blocks. Middle Kameron Bacon led with eight. “I think that’s really been engraved especially in Kameron’s head, it’s really shown what we’ve done in practice.”
The Beach will host Fullerton Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. before traveling to Hawaii for a Friday evening match–a win there would put the Beach right on the cusp of first place.