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Long Beach State Volleyball

Women’s Volleyball: Long Beach State Outlasts UCSB In Five-Set Semifinal

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Any critics of the new Big West Women’s Volleyball Tournament can’t be pleased with the early returns. The first three matches of the inaugural postseason tournament have all gone to five sets, and it’s given one of the conference’s flagship programs a second life in their pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid.

Long Beach State head coach Tyler Hildebrand said his team has been looking forward to this tournament for 11 months, and the Beach are now just one match away from winning it following Friday’s five-set thriller against top-seeded UC Santa Barbara. 

With the support of a lively crowd at Walter Pyramid, the Beach went back-and-forth with the conference’s regular season champs, gutting out a 26-24, 23-25, 25-17, 16-25, 15-12 victory to advance to Saturday’s championship match.

“This is exactly why we wanted a tournament,” said Hildebrand after the win. “There’s been three matches and they all went five. The student athletes from all the teams in our conference in this tournament are getting a chance to really play for something at the end. And it’s been sad that they haven’t been able to do that in the past. And it’s really great that we’re able to do that now.”

Junior outside hitter Natalie Glenn put down an impressive all-around performance for the Beach, with 19 kills on a stellar .452 hitting, while also adding three aces, five digs, and five blocks, including three solo roofs. 

“I really wanted to win, and I really want to go to the NCAA Tournament,” said Glenn, who was just two kills shy of her season high in her third match back from injury. “I just felt really motivated to play my best, and I felt like I had to sort of put on a performance.”

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Fellow junior Elise Agi racked up a match-high 20 kills, senior Katie Kennedy added 15 kills, and setter Zayna Meyer spread around 45 assists and had a match-high 15 digs.

The teams split a pair of toss-up sets to start out the match, with both sides feeling like they stole one late. After leading for most of the opening frame, Long Beach fell behind 22-18 on a 5-0 run by the Gauchos, then fought off a pair of set points with consecutive kills by Agi. 

Glenn’s jump serve was instrumental in LBSU closing out the first set on a 4-0 run, as her ace down the line gave the Beach set point at 25-24. A UCSB miscue ended the set and gave the Beach a valuable 1-0 lead against a team that had beaten them in both regular season meetings.

The Beach jumped out to a 15-8 lead in the second set, but UCSB rallied to tie things up at 16-all on an ace by Briana McKnight. Long Beach pulled ahead 23-21 on consecutive kills by Agi, but after calling timeout the Gauchos rattled off four straight to claim the set and even up the match.

Each side cruised to victory in the next two games, with Long Beach taking set three comfortably hitting a match-best .333. Then UCSB’s block responded in set four, holding LBSU to just .051 hitting to force a decisive fifth game.

Things tightened up in the fifth as the teams were tied at each of the first six points of the set, before Long Beach finally got some separation, leading 9-7 after Glenn’s second consecutive kill. Glenn continued to dominate, and the Long Beach block helped make the difference as the Beach went up 14-8 on the strength of a second solo roof by Glenn.

Santa Barbara continued to fight, and fended off four match points while forcing Hildebrand to use both of his timeouts. The Beach were admittedly a little nervous down the stretch, but Meyer said they never lost confidence in their ability to close it out.

“I just kept saying the job’s not done, and one more point, because it was getting a little nerve-wracking at the end,” said Meyer with a laugh. “And I think it was pretty cool, because we stayed pretty calm throughout that, and we were pretty confident that we had everyone’s back. So it was good.”

Fittingly, it was Glenn who took the final swing of the night, putting down her 19th kill to give her team the chance to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.

UCSB head coach Matt Jones showed support for the new conference tournament, even though he didn’t have a chance to vote for it before he was hired. His Gauchos are still likely to earn an NCAA big with a 27-4 overall record.

“From an entertainment perspective, every fan probably got their money’s worth tonight,” Jones said after the loss. “I do think it adds value, even though obviously this year it’s frustrating for us. I think objectively it’s a good thing, it makes the entire conference play more down the stretch. More teams are playing for something. It allows for what you’re seeing right now, this is intriguing, fun for fans. While it sucks for us, it’s great for fans and the sport.”

Long Beach State will take on either Cal Poly or Hawai’i on Saturday evening, looking to secure the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2014. First serve is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Walter Pyramid.

Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.