The NCAA beach volleyball season begins this week. Previously, we previewed the West Coast Conference. Today: The Big West.
The Big West has plenty of depth, led by Hawai’i, ranked No. 5 in the AVCA preseason poll after finishing at No. 3 at the end of last season. Long Beach State is No. 7 and Cal Poly, ranked at times last year, and CSU Bakersfield, Northridge and Sacramento State are all improving and could figure into the mix for 2018.
2017 record: 29-7
Outlook: The SandBows won the Big West tournament. The Bows will miss two-time All-American Nikki Taylor and All-American Mikayla Tucker, but Hawai’i is one of the deepest programs in the country with returnees Morgan Martin (2017 All-American), Emily Maglio (2016 All-American, twice all-conference), and Ka’iwi Schucht (twice all-conference). Grad-transfer Allyssah Fitterer and U18 Canadian champion Lea Monkhouse are expected to contribute.
“We’re looking forward to another successful year following our third-place NCAA finish,” coach Jeff Hall said. “We fell short of our main goal last year and really have our sights set this year to play on championship Sunday.
“We return nine out of 11 starters and feel that our experience and depth will help us win at all our flights. Our first goal is to win the Big West championship, which we’re hosting this year at Queens Beach in Waikiki. It should be a fun season for the SandBows.”
2017 record: 26-10
Outlook: The 49ers finished 2017 ranked seventh, second in the Big West. Long Beach loses first-team All-Big West performer Kobi Pekich, but returns first-team All-Americans Nele Barber and Rachel Nieto. Also back are Sara Karelov, Anete Brinke, Hailey Harward and Megan Kruidhof. The Beach will also add Kristina Adamcikova and Nicci Reinking.
“I think we have a lot to prove,” coach Mike Campbell said. “We return five of our top six players from last year, and even though we didn’t end the year the way we wanted to, I think that has allowed us to refocus and gives us something to fight for.
“Against a lot of the top teams a year ago, we had a lot of 3-2 losses, 15-13 losses in a third set, and hopefully we can harness that experience and turn some of those losses into wins.”
2017 record: 15-23
Outlook: Cal Poly broke into the top 15 for the first team in 2017. The Broncos lost starters Shannon Fouts, Taylor Gruenewald, and Anna Gorman, but pick up four transfers, including indoors standout Torrey Van Winden and Canadian Tina Miric, who won the FIVB U21 beach world championship in 2014. Poly also returns key pairs Hannah Hubbard and Emily Sonny, and Taylor Nelson and Raeann Greisen.
“We should be significantly improved with the addition of several transfers and freshman and having lost only three starters from last years team,” coach Todd Rogers said. “We are looking to improve on our third-place finish in the Big West Championships and challenge UH for the conference title.”
Cal State Bakersfield
2017 record: 8-11
Outlook: The Roadrunners return key players Sarah Garrow, Emily Lopes and redshirt Sydney Haynes, who was out with a shoulder injury. The Runners lost Carol Grasso and Sara Little from last year’s squad, but Emily Hansen and Brooke Boiseau are two additions that could make key contributions.
“We are really excited for this season,” coach Cesar Benatti said. “We have a more balanced team, with good players returning and new ones who can be a force on the beach.
“The indoor season has created an excellent bond for the team, which resulted in a WAC Championship, and we want to use that momentum and spirit for the beach season as well. In addition, we have a more balanced schedule ahead of us than last year, which gives us the opportunity of competing at a better level.”
2017 record: 8-11
Outlook: The Hornets lost second-team All-Big West player Madeline Cannon, but return second-teamer Brie Gathright and the No. 4 pair of Lana Brown and Hannah Meadows.
Coach Ruben Volta is pleased with the Hornets’ depth.
“We have a core group of returners and this is the fourth year of beach volleyball for some of them,” Volta said. “That experience will help a lot this year, and this is probably the deepest beach roster we’ve had.”
Cal State Northridge
2017 record: 6-12
Outlook: The Matadors were seeded fourth in the Big West tournament, but went 0-2 to finish the season. CSUN lost Big West second-teamer Maddie Leiphardt and Julie Haake, but returns Lauren Conati, Erin Indermill, Aeryn Owens, Katie Sato, and Nicki Williams. Freshman Lauren McMurray comes into the program as CSUN’s first beach-only freshman, coach Noelle Rooke hopes she makes an immediate impact.
“Obviously my goal is to finish with a winning record”, Rooke said, “but I’m hoping that with our scheduling efforts of playing more like-minded programs, who we’ll play multiple times, that will help us. But ultimately I hope our goals come to fruition and we will be successful.”