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WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL NCAA REGIONALS : 49ers Don’t Expect to Get Break

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If all goes as expected along the road to the final four, the top two women’s volleyball teams in the country--No. 1 Stanford and No. 2 Cal State Long Beach--will play for the national championship Dec. 21 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.

But there are those who have closely inspected the avenues to Westwood and don’t like what they see. Long Beach Coach Brian Gimmillaro is among them.

His 49ers have enjoyed almost total success this season, having lost one of 33 matches. The 49ers have swept 26 of their 33 opponents, won four games by score of 15-0, and in 78 of 109 games have held opponents under double figures.

Such accomplishments have earned the team a No. 1 seeding in the Northwest Regional, but little else. When the NCAA selection committee announces the regional site next week, look for No. 4-ranked Pacific to be the host.

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“I was told by the NCAA committee that it will go to the No. 1 seed,” Gimmillaro said. “But I’m sure it will not go to us. I guarantee it will not be here.”

Pacific, the only team to beat Long Beach this season, will probably be awarded the regional because it can guarantee more revenue based on the size of its facility, which is substantially larger than Long Beach’s University Gym.

Pacific, if indeed it is awarded the regional, will gain a considerable edge in a bracket that features three of the top five teams in the country. Hawaii is ranked No. 3.

“We’re talking about playing at a site against the best teams in the country and the host team will have like a 95% winning record at their home,” an irked Gimmillaro said. “What they’re asking us to do is totally, completely unfair.”

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Unfair or not, the 49ers’ chances are still better than Gimmillaro lets on. He calls this team better than the one that won the national championship two years ago at Hawaii, and few would disagree.

Long Beach, which led the nation in hitting, largely on the power and technique of Danielle Scott and Antoinette White, and with an offense guided effectively by setter Sabrina Hernandez, will play host to unranked Northern Iowa in a first-round match tonight at 7:30.

Should the 49ers win, they will probably play UC Santa Barbara, which scored surprising victories over Pacific and Texas. If they beat Santa Barbara, the 49ers probably will play Hawaii or Pacific in the regional final.

On the prospects of a national championship matchup against Stanford in Westwood, Gimmillaro said: “I don’t say we’re the No. 1 team, but we deserve to be rated No. 1. Of course that has to be proven on the court, but it might be very, very hard for us to even find Stanford. What we’re going to have to do to (be able to) play Stanford is monumental.”

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Such isn’t the case for defending champion UCLA, ranked No. 6 at 26-5. The Bruins appear to have the best chance at taking Stanford out of the picture in the West. But they first have to get past No. 15 Pepperdine (23-7) tonight at 7, and No. 8 New Mexico (22-5).

Further, they will have to travel to Stanford, the probable site of the West Regional, where awaits a 28-1 team that would like nothing better than to avenge last season’s West Regional, three-game defeat at UCLA. The Cardinal has already beaten UCLA twice this season.

USC, meanwhile, is in the NCAA tournament for the first time in two years. The No. 14 Trojans (22-7) play No. 9 Brigham Young in a first-round match tonight at BYU. Should they win, the Trojans will play the winner of the Stanford-Rhode Island match.

No. 7 Nebraska is top seeded in the Mideast Regional and No. 5 Louisiana State is expected to win the Southern Regional.

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