In the world of collegiate women’s volleyball, Long Beach State is synonymous with winning. Having captured five national championships (3 NCAA, 2 AIAW), eight Final Four appearances, six national player of the year recipients and 13 conference titles, along with a national championship in the recently-added sport of beach volleyball, success has certainly found a home at Long Beach State. And that is exactly why sophomore Rachel Nieto chose to attend Long Beach State, to have opportunity to play on a high-caliber team where greatness was within reach.
“I knew coming in that Long Beach was great with both its indoor and beach programs, so I really wanted to pursue that,” commented Nieto.
The Walnut Creek, Calif., native began her collegiate career as a walk-on for the 49ers’ indoor women’s volleyball team. Over the course of the season Nieto never real found the perfect fit so in the spring she gave beach volleyball a try and immediately fell in love and never looked back.
“Once I started playing beach volleyball I really fell in love with it and felt it would be the more appropriate fit for me as an athlete,” stated Nieto. “I felt more inclined to play beach volleyball since I was given the opportunity to be outside, get sandy and be with all these girls and the great coaching staff.”
Many indoor-turned-beach players share the same sentiments and Nieto credits the location of the university being one factor that may have influenced the crossover. With Long Beach State located in Southern California, and its proximity to the beach, allows the athlete the ability to play on any given day.
“You can literally play whenever you want,” Nieto reiterates. “It is so easy to pick up a few people, grab a ball and head to the beach and play. It’s hard to do that with indoor.”
She says beach volleyball is a completely different style of game from indoor and enjoys the more competitive and intimate nature of the game where you are involved in every play of a match. Prior to her freshman season at Long Beach State, Nieto had never played beach volleyball competitively so dealing with the elements, such as the sun and wind, has been an additional challenge for her to overcome with her transition from indoor to beach.
After Long Beach State finished runners-up in its quest for the 2015 national championship, Nieto enters the upcoming season with an added boost of confidence.
“With a second place finish in Alabama last year, we are all really enjoying it and I feel it has given us a lot more confidence going into this year,” commented Nieto. “We are super excited to see what the new season brings and with a lot of new players joining us this year it will be exciting to see how everything plays out.”
Nieto and her teammates have an added goal this...capturing the first-ever Big West Conference title for beach volleyball. The conference office recently announced the addition of women’s beach volleyball becoming a sponsored sport starting in 2016, which has brought a little more excitement to the teams.
“As a whole it is nice to see the sport being recognized as an NCAA sport, but I think that with all the teams it is still going to be pretty similar to the past few years,” commented Nieto. “The main difference is now having conferences added to the mix. In that regard, if it comes down to us and possibly Hawai’i, who is one of our biggest rivals, whoever takes first in the conference could use that as an extra push into the NCAA Tournament. I think that is where the excitement comes, having that Big West title on the line brings more amp to it.”
With just a few weeks before the 2016 season starts, the excitement has already begun for Nieto. She is looking forward to seeing how the new partnerships develop and the dynamics of the team play out, which hopefully translates to another successful season for the storied Long Beach State volleyball program.