Behind the scenes of a Long Beach State volleyball tournament

The yearlong process of hosting a women’s volleyball tournament starts with scheduling and ends with the match point.

Behind the scenes of a Long Beach State volleyball tournament

College of Charleston celebrates during the Long Beach State/LMU Tournament.

It all starts with an email.

It’s an email sent to every Division I women’s volleyball head coach in the country, inviting them to bring their teams to The Beach for one of the multiple tournaments Long Beach State hosts each year.

LBSU women’s volleyball assistant coach Matt Ulmer, who arranges the schedule for the 49ers each year, said LBSU is able to host two or three tournaments annually because many teams have players from Southern California on their rosters.

“I try to appeal to their wanting to bring their kids home to be seen in front of their home crowds,” he said. “This past year, I personally emailed every head coach in the country … asking to bring their kids home or to see if they wanted to bring their team out to Southern California.”

Ulmer got a good response for this year’s schedule, as The Beach is playing host to seven out-of-state teams over three tournaments. Of those seven teams, five have players from Southern California on their rosters. College of Charleston, which hails from South Carolina and played in last week’s Long Beach State/LMU Tournament, has a player from Manhattan Beach and another from Phelan in the High Desert.

Oregon State, which will visit the Walter Pyramid for the Long Beach State Baden Classic this weekend, leads the pack with three SoCal Natives. All of them are regular starters.

While the local ties help, they’re not the only reason teams come to The Beach. Like Hawaii, Long Beach is in an attractive geographic setting. It can be a nice change for players from a school like Illinois, where beaches are about as common as unicorns.

Ulmer said that some teams, such as LBSU Baden Classic participant Prairie View A&M, contact him first about coming out to Southern California.

“Prairie View came in two years ago and wanted to come back,” he said. “They really enjoyed [LBSU head coach Brian Gimmillaro] and watching his teams compete, so they would like to come and be a part of it.”

The popularity of LBSU’s tournaments (more than 40 different schools have participated since 2000, many of them more than once) has allowed the 49ers to spend significantly more time at home than on the road. According to Ulmer, LBSU has hosted more home matches than any school in the country other than Hawaii.

“Any time you can sleep in your own bed, it’s a blessing,” Ulmer said.

Scheduling teams for each tournament is just the start of the process. Once teams agree to participate, Ulmer draws up a contract for each school in part to assist them with their stay and also to prevent no-shows.

“We have different guarantees about what we’re going to give them,” Ulmer said “We have to have a contract with every school that they’re going to come so that they don’t cancel at the last minute, and then we’re left in the dust.”

Ulmer said each school is on its own for travel expenses, but LBSU will sometimes help out with booking hotel rooms. He said LBSU is partnered with several local hotels, including the Holiday Inn in Long Beach and the Ayres in Seal Beach. These hotels are also used by visiting Big West Conference teams during LBSU homestands.

“They’re used frequently,” he said. “For us, they try to help us out as much as they can to support our program.”

Almost a year after initial contact is made, schools travel to The Beach for the tournaments, which this year included the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational, the Long Beach State/LMU Invitational and the Long Beach State Baden Classic. Once tournament weekend starts, things aren’t much different from an average homestand.

“The biggest difference is that we have the neutral matches,” said Assistant Athletics Director of Media Relations Roger Kirk, referring to tournament games not featuring the 49ers. “We have to play host for those, so that changes my role a little bit in terms of what I’m providing because we don’t have any local media, and we’re strictly serving the teams in that case.”

The 49er players and coaches will get the chance to take a break this weekend while Oregon State and Prairie View A&M compete on the Pyramid’s palm tree floor, but Kirk, the rest of the media relations staff and much of the operations staff will still be hard at work.

“Ordinarily it’s just putting on the game like we normally would,” Kirk said, “with live statistics … setting up everything for the officials and what they need for the on-court product.”

Once the final point is scored in Saturday’s Baden Classic finale between LBSU and Prairie View A&M, Ulmer will get back to work scheduling teams for next year’s set of tournaments. He has already got San Francisco on board to visit the Walter Pyramid in 2014 and is working on getting more high-profile teams to The Beach.

“I’m still talking to a few, so I can’t say for sure,” Ulmer said. “But they’re good.”

The Beach will likely host two tournaments next year, according to Ulmer.

“Two years ago we did three, and this year we are,” he said. “It’s hard to get teams to come out every year.”

Hosting multiple tournaments each year is far from the easiest option. Ulmer said it’s easier on him to travel but that it “benefits the greater population to host.”

“I think we have one of the best home courts in the country, playing in the Pyramid,” Ulmer said. “We have one of the biggest attendances on the West Coast, our fans are loyal and knowledgeable, and I know they enjoy when we bring in quality opponents. So we try to do that for them as much as possible.”

The 49ers will start the Baden Classic on Friday with a match at 11 a.m. against Cal State Bakersfield. They will then take on Oregon State Friday night before ending the tournament against Prairie View A&M on Saturday night.

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