The 1989 Long Beach State 49ers women’s volleyball team had a 32-5 overall record and a 13-5 Big West record (Courtesy photo)

The 1989 Long Beach State 49ers women’s volleyball team proved that Black women could have success in the predominately White sport when they won the NCAA National Championship. The 49ers were the only college women’s volleyball team at the time that had Black players make up most of their starters.

Coaches throughout women’s college volleyball made comments that Long Beach State should not be in the postseason conversation that year because of the school and because of their Black players, according to Trisonya Thomspon-Abraham who was co-captain on the team.

“Back then, one team may have had a Black player and two was unheard of,” she said. “We had five.”

Antoinette White, Cheryl Stephens, Tara Cross, Vicki Pullins, and Thompson-Abraham made up the Black student athletes on the 1989 Long Beach women’s volleyball team. Their efforts gave LBSU their first Division I national championship title in any sport.

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Cross gained several accolades for her efforts in 1989, including being the co-Player of the year for the Big West, AVCA and the NCAA.

That season, the 49ers had a 32-5 overall record with a 13-5 Big West Conference record. They called themselves the “Soul Patrol” in recognition of their camaraderie as Black women in women’s volleyball.

“No [team] in the country looked like us,” Thompson-Abraham said. “We knew we were unique from all our previous experiences, club teams where we were the only one or only two players … we knew what it was like, so it was definitely a sisterhood.”

Thompson and White transferred to LBSU the season prior but could not compete due to NCAA rules. They honed the skills of their teammates by battling them during practices.

“In practice, it was just a dog fight every day,” Thompson-Abraham said.

By the 1989 season, with White and Thompson-Abraham being eligible to play, LBSU was the no. 1 ranked team. The excitement of playing led to anxiety, a prime example being when they played against Hawaii in the Regional Final where they were down 1-2 after three sets. The Soul Patrol ultimately defeated Hawaii 3-2, sending LBSU to their first-ever Final Four appearance.

“We went to Hawaii and played horrible because we were so tight, just so anxious,” said Thompson-Abraham. “Our team ran the most complicated offense in the country and I attribute that to my head coach being so far ahead of the game.”

The then head coach of the 49ers Brian Gimmillaro was the business manager of the U.S. women’s Olympic volleyball team.

In the National Semifinals, the Soul Patrol defeated the University of Texas at Arlington 3-1 (15-6, 11-15, 15-10, 15-7). In the title match, they defeated Nebraska 3-0 (15-12, 15-0, 15-6). Cross had a .529 hitting percentage and made 20 kills in the match.

“There’s three things when I think about this team which are grit, resiliency, and our determination,” Thompson-Abraham said.

The historic run of the Soul Patrol is featured in a Black Heritage Day Women’s Desktop Calendar, which can be purchased at Former president of the  Seattle King County branch of the NAACP Dr, Carl Bernard  Mack created the calendar.

The Soul Patrol was inducted into the LBSU Hall of Fame in 2011.