MCDANNALD: Long Beach State women bringing the fight early
Volleyball and soccer teams’ character shines through despite outcomes.
Published: Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Updated: Thursday, July 12, 2012 15:07
Watching a team win doesn't always reveal its identity and fortitude.
Both the Long Beach State women's soccer and volleyball teams displayed a sense of pride and toughness this past weekend.
Head coaches Mauricio Ingrassia and Brian Gimmillaro may not have received the ultimate reward — victories — but the results could have been ugly.
Ingrassia's women's soccer team played Sacramento State to a scoreless, double-overtime draw at George Allen Field on Sunday, but very easily could have lost its composure and the match.
"Frustrating for sure," Ingrassia said. "I thought we lost our heads for about seven or eight minutes, and then I thought we regained our composure."
The battle featured 30 combined fouls, three yellow card warnings — including two on The Beach — and a red card ejection.
Jazz Strozier and Lindsay Bullock steamrolled any Hornets who dared to step in their path. Chantel Hubbard and Bo Rael joined the role of enforcers, and were in the middle of most confrontations in the second half.
Rael was handed one of the yellow cards, while Hubbard picked up a pair — automatically signaling a red card — to warrant the ejection for an alleged hair-pulling incident. An animated Rael immediately ran to the officials for an explanation in a heated exchange.
The ejection forced the ‘Niners to play at an 11-on-10 disadvantage for the remainder of the contest. Despite being outnumbered, LBSU knocked in what appeared to be the potential game winner in the 84th minute. However, Nadia Link was whistled offside.
The tension spilled over into the crowd, as the event staff had to warn some of the 273 fans in attendance. Larry Anderson, a member of the men's basketball team working a shift for the game that day, was radioed over to diffuse the situation.
At a separate juncture late in the contest, a member of the Sacramento State cheering section tried to slow down the 49ers after a ball sailed into the crowd. Instead of firing the ball back into play, the fan noticed it was LBSU's possession and purposefully rolled the ball back down the steps in an attempt to kill the clock.
After knocking off a pair of top-25 programs the previous week, No. 24 LBSU (4-1-1) maintained a sense of urgency against its less-ballyhooed opponent from the Big Sky Conference.
"These past couple of weeks we've played really tough opponents and calls haven't always gone our way, [but] we're still attacking, attacking, attacking," Rael said.
Meanwhile, on the road in Austin, Texas, Gimmillaro's women's volleyball team found itself buried in a quick two-set deficit against then-No. 2 Texas on Saturday. The No. 23 49ers battled back to force a deciding fifth set before ultimately dropping the match.
There were more than enough excuses lined up if the 49ers were swept — among them, "inexperienced" and "injury-riddled."
"We told them between [sets] two and three, we're not asking them to do anything more than they can do," Gimmillaro said. "You had to figure out a way to win the match and overlook the things that people are just too new to have learned."
For the first time this season, Ashley Vazquez looked like a 17-year-old true freshman guiding a complex 49ers offense. A few mistimed passes and poorly placed sets made it tough for LBSU to establish a rhythm early.
Fellow first-year starter Haleigh Hampton was also having trouble getting involved through the first two sets, meeting multiple blockers at the net on most swings.
The Beach (5-1) eventually adjusted to the Longhorns' size advantage at the net, and capitalized on sloppy errors by last season's national runner-up Texas.
An "anxious" Vazquez played through the early jitters, and constantly fed junior outside hitter Caitlin Ledoux, who made 52 swings and connected for 22 kills in the match.
"The more games you play, the bigger player you become," Vazquez said.
Gimmillaro's toughest decisions are quickly approaching. Senior setter Ashley Lee, who has been sidelined with a broken right pinkie, will make her season debut Friday against No. 25 San Diego. The question is: What does he do with Vazquez?
"[Vazquez] goes back to the backup role," said Gimmillaro, adding that Lee will immediately assume the full-time role. "I told Ashley Vazquez after the game that thank goodness we had her.
"She gave us an opportunity to win and she did everything she could, given what she's been able to learn and her experience level. She did a great job."
Another injured starter, sophomore outside hitter Jocelyn Neely, could force Gimmillaro into a similar dilemma later this season — stay tuned.
Hey, there could be worse problems than having too much talent, but at least Ingrassia and Gimmillaro don't have to question the character of their teams.