49ers will have to battle for back-to-back Big West titles
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 00:09
With the addition of Hawaii and the continued improvement of teams such as Pacific and Cal State Northridge, the Big West Conference looks to be highly competitive in 2012.
The Long Beach State women’s volleyball team begins its Big West title defense Friday when it hosts Cal Poly.
“SLO has had some of the same injury problems we’ve had,” LBSU head coach Brian Gimmillaro said. “They should have a very good team, but their best players are injured, so it’s kind of like us.”
The Beach (5-6) has been led so far this season by senior outside hitter Janisa Johnson and junior Delainey Aigner-Swesey.
Johnson has 121 kills and 135 digs on .204 hitting. Aigner-Swesey has compiled a team-leading 125 kills to go along with 89 digs while hitting at a .176 clip.
As conference play gets underway, Gimmillaro said the Big West has many teams that can contend.
“Santa Barbara is very good, and Hawaii and Northridge are outstanding teams,” Gimmillaro added. “Irvine is very tall, very talented and could be good any particular night, and Riverside is one of those teams that’s good at home. They play a whole different game than they play on the road.”
LBSU may even have a chance to improve its Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) in conference play, an opportunity rarely afforded to mid-major teams.
“There are many, many [Big West teams] that are not ranked in the polls but are ranked in the formulas the NCAA goes by,” Gimmillaro said. “We’re talking about [Hawaii, Santa Barbara, Northridge and Pacific] 50 and above. When you’ve got four teams in the conference rated there, you’re talking about some pretty good teams.”
The Beach hosts Cal Poly on Friday and UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at the Walter Pyramid. Both matches begin at 7 p.m.
No. 7 Hawaii Rainbow Wahine (7-2)
As the newest member of the Big West, seventh-ranked Hawaii immediately improves the competition level within the conference. Hawaii is tops in the Big West with a .283 hitting percentage and is anchored by junior outside hitter Emily Hartong, who has 142 kills and 73 digs. The ‘Niners play in Honolulu on Sept. 29 and host the Rainbow Wahine on Oct. 26.
Pacific Tigers (11-1)
After compiling the best nonconference record in the Big West, Pacific will aim to continue its success in conference play and make a big impact in the standings. The Tigers are led by junior outside hitter Megan Birch, who has 182 kills on .250 hitting so far this season. Pacific’s defense is particularly tough, as it has held opponents to just .151 hitting on the season. Senior setter Hannah Clancy leads the Big West with 505 assists.
CSU Northridge Matadors (9-3)
CSUN took a big step in the right direction last year, as it ended its 2011 campaign with an overall record of 16-13 (9-7 Big West). That record earned it a third-place finish in the conference.
This season, the Matadors are led by junior outside hitter Britney Graff, who has accumulated 121 kills and 92 digs to this point. She has also been hitting at a .235 average.
UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (7-7)
The Big West runner-up from a year ago is primed once again to contend with the upper tier of the conference. Junior outside hitter Leah Sully leads the Big West with 229 kills to go along with 209. She is joined by Jenna Wilson, who leads the Big West with 7 blocks.
CSU Fullerton Titans (6-7)
The Titans are anchored once again by outside hitter Kayla Neto. The senior has posted 181 kills and 104 digs on .158 hitting this season. Fullerton rounded out the 2011 season in the middle of the pack, as it posted a 13-16 (8-8 Big West) record.
The 49ers will face their rivals on Oct. 13 in Fullerton and once again on Nov. 8 at the Walter Pyramid.
UC Davis Aggies (6-7)
Davis is paced by senior outside hitter Allison Whitson’s 175 kills and 146 digs. Sophomore middle blocker Victoria Lee is leading the Big West, averaging 1.3 blocks per set.
The Aggies finished with an overall record of 21-10 last season, good for second in the Big West, but ended up in sixth due to a 7-9 mark in conference play.
UC Irvine Anteaters (5-8)
The Anteaters are led by senior outside hitter Aly Squires and her 190 kills and 122 digs. Senior setter Marissa Alvarez is second in the conference with 468 assists and senior libero Kristin Winkler has a shot to break the Big West record for career digs. Her 234 digs so far this year have lifted her to fourth on the all-time list.