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Long Beach State Volleyball

Long Beach State Beats UC Irvine In Big West Tournament Opener

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With history on the line, why not take a little extra time to get the job done right? The Long Beach State women’s volleyball team needed five sets to win their Big West Tournament opener, but they got it done as they survived a great challenge from UC Irvine, 25-16, 25-27, 25-14, 22-25, 15-10.

The win came in the first match of the inaugural Big West Tournament, being hosted this week in LBSU’s Walter Pyramid. The Beach now advance to Friday’s semifinals where they will face UC Santa Barbara at 4 p.m. with a trip to Saturday’s championship match on the line.

“It was fun to play a postseason match, a lot of people did a lot of work to get this tournament going,” said LBSU coach Tyler Hildebrand. “It was special to kick that off tonight, for us it feels special to kick it off here at home.”

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The Beach now officially own their first 20-win season since 2016 and are very much still alive in the hunt for their first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade. That’s thanks to the work of Hildebrand and the other Big West coaches in pushing for the conference to adopt a postseason tournament. In previous years, most teams’ seasons were over with three or four weeks to play as a conference leader became obvious. This year, teams fought for a top six position in conference to earn a berth in the postseason tournament. 

“It means everything,” said Hildebrand, whose Beach team is seeded fourth in the tournament. “In sports you’re supposed to have a chance at the end. Four or five of us have big winning records and played tough teams in the preseason. Everyone deserves a chance to play for something at the end of the year…I think the butterfly effect of this over time is going to be huge.”

Even after the loss, UC Irvine coach Ashlie Hain agreed it changed the trajectory of the season to get to play in a postseason tournament.

“We had a really challenging preseason, so to find ourselves in that fifth spot at the end, it gave them something to play for,” she said. “To have that fresh start in conference and that goal of being top six keeps everyone motivated.”

The Beach controlled the first set and looked to win the second as they led throughout and were up 24-22 before Irvine came back and won it 27-25. That sent both teams to the locker room with a lot to think about as the Beach found themselves tied 1-1 in a match that they had dominated to that point.

“We have a lot of different leaders on our team,” said fifth-year senior Katie Kennedy, one of the team’s captains. “It’s cool to go into that break and nobody’s sitting down with a look on their face like ‘oh no, what now?’”

Tia Chavera, another fifth-year senior and captain, stressed to her teammates that they had to pick it up.

“We were just trying to share the message that it’s now or never, they’re not going to let up, they’re going to fight and we can’t let them push us into the corner,” said Chavira.

The Beach easily won the third set, 25-14, then dropped the fourth to send it to a fifth and dividing set. There, the Beach hit .500 and dominated to win it 15-10 on a kill from Elise Agi, who had a match-high 19 kills on .310 hitting. Kennedy had 12 kills on .348 hitting and five blocks, as the Beach outblocked Irvine 12-4.

“We just weren’t ready for it to be over yet, we still have a lot more to play for,” said Kennedy. “We’re grateful to be hosting and to feel a lot of support from our community tonight, it was fun.”

The task in front of the Beach Friday at 4 p.m. is a tough one, as Long Beach will face UC Santa Barbara, the runaway conference champions who lost just one match all conference schedule and just three matches all season.

“They’re very fast, they do a great job in junk, and they’re the number one blocking team in the conference,” said Hildebrand.

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.