Long Beach State women’s volleyball off to historically bad start as Big West opens

Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer
Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer

LONG BEACH >> With the Sparks playing in the Walter Pyramid last week, the Long Beach State women’s volleyball team was forced to practice in the Student Wellness and Recreation Center.

During the practice an errant ball smacked into the emergency exit door, meaning that for five minutes the team practiced with an alarm sounding while Coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer went to get a staff member.

It was a moment with symbolic resonance for a 49ers program enduring a historically difficult start.

Under McKienzie-Fuerbringer, the 49ers (3-10) began the season 1-10, the worst start the four-time NCAA champion program has ever had. The team also had a losing streak of nine matches, the longest in more than 30 years.

“We’re keeping a learning mindset, the coaching staff and the players,” said McKienzie-Fuerbringer, in her first year at the helm. “We’re always learning and learning and learning.”

The 49ers dropped matches to ranked teams, like Stanford, UCLA and Kansas, but also lost to Utah Valley, Iowa and Pacific among others.

The record comes as something of a surprise. The 49ers lost much of last year’s team to graduation or transfer but had brought in a number of talented players, leading former coach Brian Gimmillaro to predict it would be the most talented 49ers team in 15 years.

“The thing where we have to keep our heads up is we’ve had a lot of injuries,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “Right now we’re trying to stay healthy and get a couple players back.”

Most notably absent are Ashley Murray and Anete Brinke. Murray is a top-tier middle blocker who has been an all-conference selection and could bring much-needed offensive and defensive help. Brinke is a talented European player who has battled shoulder injuries during her time at LBSU.

That’s not all, though, as the team has had three other starters miss at least one match, which has prompted McKienzie-Fuerbringer to shuffle lineups frequently looking for the best matchups.

In back-to-back matches against LMU and Pacific (both sweep losses), the 49ers looked to get better offensive and defensive groups on the floor. Against the Lions, they went for defense and put up 27 digs and a block, with LMU hitting .333. The downside was the 49ers hit -0.011.

The next match out they tried to beef up the offense against the Tigers, which they did, hitting .239 as a team. But the shift toward offense left the back line thin, as Pacific hit .400 and the 49ers had just 23 digs.

“It’s been more like putting a puzzle together so far,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.


There’s still reason for optimism. Lakewood alum Megan Kruidhof has been a bright spot and libero Hailey Harward is still one of the nation’s best passers. The 49ers also snapped a nine-match skid last Saturday with back-to-back wins over the University of San Francisco and Montana State.

“Our focus is just trying to keep improving and to play our best volleyball at the end of the season,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said.

The new coach took over from Gimmillaro late in the offseason and hasn’t had a chance to put her own recruiting class or schedule together yet, luxuries she’ll have after the year is over. For now the 49ers will open Big West play and find out how much they’ve improved, traveling to Riverside today and CSU Northridge on Friday.

McKienzie-Fuerbringer is optimistic about the year going forward and said she’s been heartened by the response from the Long Beach volleyball community.

“We’ve had the same support from our admin,” she said. “And our boosters are still coming and supporting us.”

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About the Author

Mike Guardabascio

Mike Guardabascio is an award-winning sportswriter who's been covering the Long Beach sports world since 2008. A Long Beach native, he's a member of the CIF Southern Section Media Advisory Committee and the California Prep Sportswriters Association. A two-time winner of the Century Club's Keith Cordes Award for best promotion of the city through sports, he is also the author of a book, Football in Long Beach, available through the History Press. Reach the author at mguardabascio@scng.com or follow Mike on Twitter: @Guardabascio.