Men's Volleyball, Sports

‘Niners crack Top 25 poll, look to meet lofty expectations

With the 2011 season fast approaching, the Long Beach State women’s volleyball team will begin its quest for a Big West Conference title and NCAA Tournament championship this season with high hopes.

Not only were the 49ers picked to win the Big West Conference in a poll of the conference’s coaches, but they were also ranked No. 22 in the nation, according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) poll after failing to break the Top 25 last year.

The 49ers received seven of nine total first-place votes in the Big West preseason coaches’ poll as they tallied 78 points, narrowly beating Cal Poly, which received the other two first-place votes and finished with 72 points.  

In the AVCA Coaches poll, the 49ers received 234 points, 22 shy of No. 21 Ohio State.  

This year’s LBSU volleyball team will feature a younger, fresher squad that will only have three seniors in outside hitter Caitlin Ledoux, middle blocker Michelle Osunbor, and defensive specialist Lauren Minkel.  Seven incoming freshman make up the majority of the 24-player roster who will try to make a positive splash for the team.

“The incoming freshman look really good,” Minkel said.  

Ledoux specifically cited Erin Juley, a setter from La Grange, Ill., to be one of the many incoming freshman that will make an immediate impact the team.

Head coach Brian Gimmillaro is looking to improve the squad from last year’s first-round NCAA Tournament exit against the University of San Diego, which swept The Beach.

Ledoux anticipates a monster year

Ledoux, a two-time AVCA Honorable Mention and LBSU kills leader, has her expectations set high as she looks to take the 49ers to a place they haven’t reached since 1998.

“We expect a national championship,” says Ledoux, whose 464 kills last season beat out second-place finisher, junior Janisa Johnson, by 102. “We need to at least reach the Final Four, nothing less.”

Ledoux improved her skills in the off-season by conditioning herself to be faster and stronger.  She also did some mental training to use in game-time situations.

“I’ve learned to be more patient over the summer,” Ledoux said. “Learning to be patient will really help when I’m playing and will keep me balanced.”

Though Ledoux has had the honor of being an AVCA Honorable Mention, she said she is tired of the “non-award” and is hoping to reach the next level.

“I want to be an All-American,” said Ledoux, who didn’t stop there.”I’m also looking to be top five in the nation in kills.”

If that’s the case, Ledoux will have some big shoes to fill. The senior ranked 64th last year in points per set and 65th in kills per set with 3.8.

Minkel digging for the history books

While Ledoux was quick to reveal her goals for the season, Minkel will be looking to break a record of her own.

“I want to beat the [all-time school] digs record,” said Minkel, who led the team in digs last year with 504, averaging 4.13 per set. “I have 1228 so far, [and] the record is 1600 I believe, so I have some work to do.”

Minkel’s conditioning work in the summer will “help tremendously” as the senior will try to crack the record.

“I did a lot of weight training,” Minkel said. “So I feel a lot stronger than last season.”

Hampton returns to LBSU after Junior World Championships

Hampton, a sophomore middle blocker, was part of the USA Junior National Team that finished in fourth place at the 2011 Junior World Championships held in Lima, Peru earlier this summer.

Team USA advanced to the third-place match, but lost to China in four sets.  

Hampton started for Team USA throughout the tournament and finished third on the team with 55 kills, with 10 blocks and six aces in the eight matches she played.  

The product out of Huntington Beach, Calif. joined Ledoux as members of the 2010 All-Big West First Team, and are the two stars who hope to lead the 49ers to a successful season.

Early home cooking

The 49ers open their season schedule hosting the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational on Friday, playing two games, one against Prairie View A&M and the latter game against University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  The following day, The Beach will be facing No. 7 University of Washington at the Walter Pyramid as well.

“That’s the game we’re looking at,” Gimmirallo said of the Saturday match-up with the Huskies. “Right off the bat, we’re going to face some good teams.”

Nine of their first 12 games will be played at home in the Walter Pyramid thanks to hosting Mizuno Invitational as well as the Baden Classic, which the 49ers hosted last year with a favorable schedule to start the season.

“We need to get the first weekend knocked down,” Gimmirallo said. “All season we’re going to be playing hard and try to achieve our main goal, which is win every point.”

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