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Long Beach State opens season with Kentucky Classic

Senior Janisa Johnson and the 49ers begin the 2012 season this weekend in Kentucky.

Aug. 20, 2012

Long Beach, Calif. -

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Starting Out
Long Beach State opens the 2012 season on the road for just the first time since the 1998 National Championship season, traveling to Lexington, Kentucky, to face Lipscomb, North Carolina, and host Kentucky in the Kentucky Classic. The 49ers start the season on August 24 by playing the Bison, and then follow by playing North Carolina and Kentucky back-to-back on the 25th. All three games will have live audio provided through

Coming Back
Five starters return for the 49ers in 2012,and in all, the 49ers have six players back that played over 100 sets in 2011. Haleigh Hampton, Tyler Jackson, and Janisa Johnson all played every set last season for the 49ers, and Hampton and Johnson were both starters for the 49ers at middle blocker and outside hitter respectively. Hampton was an Honorable Mention All-American as well as a first-team All-Big West selection, while Johnson was thd on the team in kills and second in digs, averaging 3.07 per match. Jackson is the likely candidate to replace departed senior Lauren Minkel at the libero position, having made 243 digs and 29 aces last year as a true freshman. The 49ers have three other returning freshman starters from a young 2011 squad. Sophomore Erin Juley returns after making 1,146 assists last season and leading the team to a Big West high .252 team hitting percentag and an All-Freshman Team appearance. Also named to the All-Freshman team was Alma Serna, who had 190 kills and averaged 1.32 blocks per set, second in the conference behind Hampton. Bre Mackie came on in the second half of the season, starting on the right side, and finished the season averaging 1.64 kills per set. The other returner is honorable mention All-Big West selection Delainey Aigner-Swesey.

In the Polls
Long Beach State opens the season just outside of the Top 25, receiving 66 votes in the 2012 AVCA preseason poll, behind No. 25 Colorado State. The 49ers play five teams that received votes in the preseason poll, beginning with No 13 Kentucky in the opening week of the season. The 49ers will also play No. 8 Hawaii and No. 19 San Diego at home, No. 21 Northern Iowa in a neutral site match, and a return trip to Hawaii as part of the conference schedule. North Carolina and LBSU will also match up in the first week of the season to try and break into the Top 25, as the first two teams out beginning the year, playing on August 25.

Scouting the Kentucky Classic Field
The Kentucky Classic boasts a very strong field to begin the season, as all four teams reached the NCAA Tournament last season. Host Kentucky enters the weekend as the most highly regarded team in the Kentucky Classic. Ranked No. 13 in the country, the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight last season and return five starters, including outside hitter Ashley Frazier who led Kentucky with 3.22 kills per set last season. Senior Emily McGee leads the Tar Heels into the 2012 season, as the 5-10 outside hittter averaged over four kills per set last season, leading North Carolina with 473 kills in 2011. Lipscomb posted a 20-11 record last season, and returns five starters, including outside hitter Kaycee Green, who led the Lady Bisons with 389 kills a year ago.

Long Beach State vs. the Lady Bisons, Tar Heels, and Wildcats
Long Beach State has never lost a match to any of the teams participating in the Kentucky Classic. The 2012 season opener marks the first meeding between Long Beach State and Lipscomb. The 49ers won the only meeting between LBSU and North Carolina, as the 49ers won 3-1 in the Walter Pyramid in 1999. The most-played series of the three is between Long Beach State and Kentucky. The 49ers have won all three matches, though Saturday marks the first time that the teams have played on Kentucky's home floor. Long Beach State won the last meeting in 2004, winning 3-0 in the Thanksgiving Tournament behind .545 hitting from Alexis Crimes.

The New Big West
Despite being the defending Big West champions, Long Beach State was pushed out of the top spot in the preseason coaches poll by returning member Hawaii, as the Rainbow Wahine received nine first place votes. The No. 8 team in the nation, Hawaii was picked second by the coch that picked Cal Poly to finish first. Long Beach State finished second, receiving at least 8 second-place votes from the confrence's coaches. Cal State Northridge was picked third, while the Mustangs, despite their first place vote, were picked to finish seventh.

Block Party
One season after ranking eighth nationally in blocking, the 49ers got even better in 2011. Long Beach State finished the season second nationally as a team, one .01 of a percentage point behind Stanford, averaging 3.17 blocks per set. After finishing third in the nation in 2010, Haleigh Hampton finished third again nationally at 1.61 blocks per set, which is also the best in the Big West. Freshman Alma Serna is also joining the party, ranking second in the Big West and 27th nationally, averaging 1.32 blocks per set. Hampton's totals have brought her up to ninth in school history in total blocks after just her sophomore season.

Honoring the 49ers
Long Beach State had two players receive All-America honors for the second time in the last three years in 2011, as senior outside hitter Caitlin Ledoux and sophomore middle blocker Haleigh Hampton each were named Honorable Mention All-America after receiving first-team AVCA All-Region honors. In the Big West honors, Ledoux became just the seventh four-time first-team All-Big West selection, joining Hampton as the two first-team All-Big West selections for the Big West champions. Sophomore Delainey Aigner-Swesey was tabbed as an honorable mention, and setter Erin Juley and middle blocker Alma Serna both received a selection on the Big West All-Freshman team.

Keep Em Coming
In 2011, Long Beach State reached its 25th consecutve NCAA Tournament, a feat matched by just three other schools: Penn State, Stanford, and Nebraska. The 49ers have now made 26 NCAA Tournament appearances, all coming under Brian Gimmillaro. The 25 straight under one coach is matched only by Russ Rose at Penn State, as the 49ers continue to excel annually.

Start It Up
The 49ers have a number of intruiging position battles to start the season. Delainey Aigner-Swesey, Janisa Johnson, and Alex Reid will share the swings at OH until two seperate themselves, and while Alma Serna has one MB position locked up, the second will be contested between Chisom Okpala and Kitan Ajanaku in the absence of Hampton. At setter, Tara Roenicke will get the early nod while Erin Juley finishes her recovery fom offseason surgery, and Tyler Jackson is tabbed as the early season libero. Bre Mackie has the right side locked up, and Chelsea Cabrajac and Libby Fontanilla will compete for the remaining back row position.

This and That
Junior Haleigh Hampton is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury ... Long Beach State adds three players to the roster in 2012: 5-11 OH Alex Reid, 6-4 MB Tiara Wallace, and 5-7 DS Tori Hinderaker ... Both Reid and Wallace were named "Senior Aces" by Prep Volleyball ... The 49ers lost their first compeition of 2012, falling 2 sets to 1 against the Long Beach State alumni, led by three-time Gold Medalist Misty May-Treanor and five-time Olympian Danielle Scott-Arruda.



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