One of women’s college volleyball’s signature legacy programs has turned to one of its own to write its next chapter.
It happened when Long Beach State hired former player Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer to replace retired 32-year coaching great Brian Gimmillaro, who built the program into an NCAA powerhouse that won three national titles (1989, 1993 and the first undefeated NCAA champion in 1998) and produced multiple Olympic gold-medalists and future hall of famers.
The 45-year-old McKienzie-Fuerbringer, the founder of the well-respected Mizuno Long Beach club, will be joined on the bench by her husband, Matt Fuerbringer, a retired AVP player and former U.S. men’s national-team assistant coach. Matt, 43, was hired as associate head coach.
“I’m thrilled to be back at my alma mater and I’m thrilled to be able to work with my husband,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer told VolleyballMag.com. “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and thrilled to have the opportunity to take care of this program.”
McKienzie-Fuerbringer was an All-American setter who helped the 49ers win the 1993 championship. She played overseas and has a resume that includes being an assistant at Long Beach, coaching at Golden West College (where she was part of two state-championship teams), Wilson High School in Long Beach and Los Alamitos High School.
She was also an assistant at UCLA when the Bruins won the 2011 NCAA title.
“When I stepped down at UCLA I thought I was ready then (to be a head coach),” she said. “At that time Brian had signed a new contract and I didn’t know when he was going to retire. I always had it in the back of my mind that Long Beach would be a great program to go back to. It would be an opportunity to go back to my alma mater.”
UCLA coach Mike Sealy is confident that McKienzie-Fuerberinger will have success at Long Beach.
“Joy is a great get for Long Beach State,” Sealy said. “She has that rare gift of being completely transparent and lovable at the same time. She was liked and respected by all the players when she was at UCLA. She knows the game well both technically and tactically and is going to do great things there.”
McKienzie-Fuerbringer, whose brother, David was an All-American men’s player at Long Beach and was a member of the 2012 U.S. men’s Olympic team, called the opportunity her “dream job.”
“The timing and location are perfect,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this with my family (the Fuerbringer’s have two children, daughter, Charlie, and son, Mateo) if Matt didn’t step down from the national team and come over.
“When Matt said yes to this, I put my name in and we waited to see what would come up. We had to think about our kids. When I was still at UCLA and Matt was with the national team after he retired from the AVP, there was one year where both of us were coaching and it didn’t work out because there was a lot of travel involved. At the end of that season I stepped down at UCLA. Our kids were 4 and 7 at the time.”
McKienzie-Fuerbringer said she’s fortunate to be stepping into one of the women’s college programs that has long-standing cache, thanks to the efforts of Gimmillaro over the years.
“I’m so proud of what Brian and Debbie Green (a hall-of-fame player and longtime Long Beach assistant coach) and the players before and after me built,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “The support of the community there is unbelievable. It’s a volleyball school. One of the most special things about the school is the tight volleyball community. The men’s program has done very well and has been able to sustain a level of excellence and the beach program has done so well. Long Beach State puts the sport of volleyball as a priority and that is what makes it special.
“When I visited there the last couple weeks, I saw the some of the same people from when I was there. The school has a great administration, great boosters and it’s a great community. Brian is one of the greatest coaches of all-time. He and Debbie Green and the coaches before and after her built the program. There is such a strong foundation there and Matt and I want to build off what was laid before us.”
News of her hiring was met with resounding approval by former Long Beach greats.
“I am so happy for her,” said five-time USA Olympian Danielle Scott Arruda, the 1993 national player of the year at Long Beach State when the 49ers won the 1993 NCAA title.
“Joy is such a great person first and she’s been coaching for a really long time and has had success everywhere she’s been. She’s an amazing person and she was an amazing player and she’s going to be great as a coach. She had success at UCLA, she’s had success with club programs and then you have the one-two combo with her husband. It’s going to be great. And I’m glad Long Beach chose someone from home, within the alma mater. There were so many qualified people, but that Joy got it, I’m so happy for her.”
Fellow US great Tara Cross-Battle, who now coaches in the Houston Juniors program, has seen McKienzie-Fuerbringer’s coaching acumen up close.
“I never played with Joy, but we have coached against each other over the years in club,” Cross-Battle said. “She’s a very good coach. I’m so happy for her. She will be a very good fit for Long Beach State. I hope she can get the program back on top where Long Beach State should be. I’m happy to see they hired someone from the program who played under Brian. What Brian did with that program is great and it will be very important for Joy to continue that in her own way. I look forward to seeing her excel.”
McKienzie-Fuerbringer, the fifth coach in Long Beach State history, said her club isn’t going anywhere. McKienzie-Fuerbringer founded the Mizuno Long Beach 23 years ago. Her husband later started the men’s arm of the club, Team Rockstar. McKienzie-Fuerbringer also owns and manages The MAC Athletic Club in Carson, Calif.
“We’ll still have the club but just like when I was at UCLA, we’ll have to move some pieces administratively and have people take on more roles that way,” she said. “I will continue to help with the players and coaches. I joke that the club will now be more organized because I’ve stepped down from the administrative part.”
She added she can’t wait to work with her husband on a daily basis at the college level. “Matt and I are excited to be able to work together,” she said. “We did something similar with the club. He’s worked really hard to get the boys’ program going. We work very well together and have always talked about this possibility. This is our dream job.”
Fuerbringer-McKienzie inherits a Long Beach State team that went 21-10 in 2016, but did not make the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. The roster includes All-Big West Conference players in senior Ashley Murray and sophomore Yi ZhiXue, who made the league’s all freshman team last year with Hailey Harward.
Gimmillaro also signed a seven-player incoming class that includes transfers Kristyna Adamcikova (San Francisco) and Emma Kirst (Utah), along with international newcomers Radi Marinova (6-2, MB. Bulgaria) and Monika Simkova (6-2, OH-RS, Slovakia), as well as local players Mina Andjelkovic (6-2, S) and Gina Lipscomb (6-0, OH). Andjelkovic has experience with the Serbian national program.
“We have a lot of good pieces on the roster,” McKienzie-Fuerbringer said. “Brian put together a great roster. We have a lot of incoming freshmen and transfers that we will learn about. We have a solid base of players to put together something special. The key is us getting the gym and getting to know the players. I’m excited about the possibilities and the things we can do.”
Under Gimmillaro the program made 27 NCAA appearances starting in 1985 and then every year from 1987 until 2011. Gimmillaro retired with 835 career wins and coached 23 All-Americans..
“The goal is to get to the NCAA tournament and then win a national championship,” said McKienzie-Fuerbringer, who is in the process of completing her staff. That will include, she said, former Nebraska standout and Mizuno Long Beach club alum Justine Wong-Orantes, who will be a volunteer assistant while also training with the national team in nearby Anaheim.
McKienzie-Fuerbringer also said she and her husband will direct the beach volleyball program for at least one season.
“The goal of the university is to eventually have beach volleyball separate with its own head coach,” she said.