Men's Volleyball, Sports

LBSU slowly puts away UNLV, 3-1

Box score

After dropping a four-set decision to Texas Christian University earlier in the day, Long Beach State women’s volleyball head coach Brian Gimmillaro spent an hour and a half talking to his team in the locker room. He emerged with the decision to rest four of his starters for the 49ers’ match with UNLV.

The 49ers defeated the Rebels in four listless sets — 25-19, 25-21, 25-27, 25-23 — Saturday night at the Walter Pyramid to close the first day of action in the Mizuno Thanksgiving Tournament. The win gave LBSU (20-8) 20-plus victories for the 20th time in the past 21 seasons.

Naomi Washington led all hitters with 24 kills on .360 hitting. Caitlin Ledoux added 19 kills and 12 digs, while Ashley Lee chipped in 49 assists, 16 digs and four service aces for the 49ers. All three players were the only carry-overs from the starting lineup against TCU seven hours earlier.

Cursty Jackson and Kelsey Keeler swatted 14 kills apiece to pace UNLV (8-18). Sara Nehf also finished in double figures with 10 kills.

Jessica Thomas, Sarah Clause, Taylor Cook and Laura Schuck replaced regulars Lauren Minkel, Brittney Herzog, Michelle Osunbor and Jocelyn Neely as the LBSU starters were introduced. Schuck was the lone replacement who received consistent playing time all season.

“Because we’re not used to playing with each other, it was weird at first,” said a visibly exhausted Washington, who attempted a match-high 50 swings.

But the fifth-year senior was “surprised” with how the reserves performed, given the circumstances.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m glad you guys pay attention in practice,” Washington said. “Brian gave them a chance to play … and they did what they’re supposed to do.”

Three of the four regulars did not appear in the contest, and Minkel didn’t check into the match until late in the fourth set. She didn’t stay in long, however, before Thomas checked back into the contest after just five plays.

“We were asking Jess from not playing at all … and now she played all the way around,” Gimmillaro said. “To ask her to play all the way around — out of position, which she’s never even practiced in her life — it was a time where I said, ‘OK, you’ve done enough.'”

Also, seldom-used freshman Janisa Johnson received substantial playing time off the bench in place of Libby Fontanilla, who also never got into the match.

Gimmillaro would not commit to returning his regular starting lineup, and also wouldn’t rule out giving Washington or Ledoux a rest in tomorrow’s matches.

“It would be nice if we get some scoring from somewhere besides Naomi and Caitlin. They’re really worn out and tired,” he added.

After trading leads in the previous set, both teams accounted for 16 ties and nine lead changes in set four.

Tied at 23, a UNLV hitting error — one of 22 in the match — gave LBSU the lead. Clause knocked down match-point to end a rhythm-less contest that dragged on more than the final score showed.

“[The reserves] practice all year and they never play. They needed to play,” Gimmillaro explained.

The 49ers hit .263 but committed 21 hitting errors of their own, while UNLV hit .204. The Rebels out-blocked LBSU, 11-5.

Eight hitting errors, including four from the serve, contributed to LBSU dropping the third set, 27-25.

Fifteen ties and seven lead changes occurred in the frame, as UNLV rallied from match-point twice to outlast LBSU.

Trailing 24-22, UNLV’s Jackson knocked down a kill followed by a Ledoux hitting error. The Rebels’ Erin Greenwood knotted the set again at 25 before teaming up with Samantha Noland for the go-ahead block. A service ace on the ensuing play forced a fourth set.

The ‘Niners played with the lead throughout most of the second set but could never separate themselves from the Rebels.

“Maybe it was the turkey,” Washington joked.

Leading 22-20, Thomas and Clause teamed up for back-to-back blocks en route to a 25-21 victory in the set.

Regular starters Washington, Ledoux and Lee carried the ‘Niners to a 25-19 victory in set one, which didn’t feature much of a defensive rhythm as both teams hit over .300 in the frame.

Washington hammered six kills, Ledoux added four kills and four digs, while Lee chipped in 10 assists, three digs and a pair of service aces. Clause also served two aces for the 49ers.

LBSU will close the tournament and regular season tomorrow at the Walter Pyramid against Loyola Marymount (noon) and Utah (7:30 p.m.). The team will then await its NCAA Tournament destination at Legends Sports Bar and Grill on Sunday at noon. The NCAA selection show will air on ESPNEWS.


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