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CLARK: LBSU will make the NCAAs with or without a Big West title

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The Long Beach State women’s volleyball team took a break from the NCAA tournament last season, but that break will be over soon enough.

The 49ers will be in tough competition with No. 11 Hawaii for the Big West Conference title, but even if they lose that battle, they will have a good enough resume to make the NCAA tournament.

Talent is back on the floor for the 49ers. Haleigh Hampton, Erin Juley and Delainey Aigner-Swesey are all healthy. Hampton and another All-American, Chisom Okpala, will cause problems for opposing hitters all year long. Plus, head coach Brian Gimmillaro has a deep bench he can access whenever he needs to.

Despite being without three starters for a fair portion of the 2012 season, LBSU was able to use its depth to finish second in the Big West, and Gimmillaro won Coach of the Year.

Gimmillaro now has his team back. He has the players he recruited specifically for his team and his system, and five of them have been named to All-Big West teams at some point in their careers. The talent necessary for a successful year is certainly abundant on the LBSU roster.

If unforeseen obstacles such as injuries and upset losses present themselves as speed bumps in LBSU’s season, they will still have a legitimate chance to make the NCAA tournament, even with an at-large bid. This is due in large part to the 49ers’ schedule.

LBSU will play five games against teams that are currently ranked and one more against a team that received votes. The ‘Niners do have a lot of nonconference home games, but wins help just as much as tough matchups.

While the majority of the 49ers’ Big West opponents will hurt their strength of schedule, a strong Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is almost guaranteed if they take care of business in conference.

Even if the 49ers lose more than they should in conference play, they could still have a chance to make the Big Dance. The 2012 LBSU women’s soccer team played several tough nonconference opponents, suffered some tough losses in Big West play and still managed to work its way into the NCAA tournament field because of its high RPI.

The 49ers have only failed to advance to the NCAA tournament twice in 28 years under Gimmillaro. Because of their talent and strength of schedule, they will return to their familiar postseason home this season.

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