2013 USC Women's Sand Volleyball Outlook
March 1, 2013
What a difference a year should make.
Only a handful of players on last year's inaugural USC women's sand volleyball team had any appreciable experience with the sand game. Most of that squad was Women of Troy indoor players who didn't start training on the beach until a few weeks before the sand season began. Still, USC went 7-4 in 2012 (including wins over Long Beach State and Hawaii) and sent 2 teams to the pairs portion of the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championship, where both duos advanced to the quarterfinals.
The 2013 Women of Troy, in marked contrast, have only 2 players on the 14-woman roster who came over from the fall's indoor squad. The majority of this USC sand team has been training outdoors since September and many of them have accomplished sand backgrounds.
"This year, I feel like we are a true sand team, one with sand legs, and not a hybrid team of indoor and sand players like last year that takes time to develop," said second-year USC head coach Anna Collier. "The future of our new sport is having teams composed primarily of sand players who train year round. We may be the only team in the country with sand players making up nearly 90 percent of the roster."
New faces will play a key role on the 2013 Trojan squad. While 6 players return from 2012, only 3 of them played the entire season. Among the newcomers are 3 first-year freshmen, 3 collegiate transfers (including a member of Pepperdine's 2012 national championship sand squad) and 2 former Women of Troy indoor players.
After calling Santa Monica's Annenberg Community Beach House its home last season, USC will be playing in a new on-campus facility in 2013: Merle Norman Stadium. The 3-court stadium (2 more courts will be added in the future), located on the east side of campus across from the Galen Center, features sand from the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
And the Women of Troy will compete against some new opponents, as more schools have added teams this year, including such programs as UCLA, Stanford, Arizona and Nebraska. There are now 29 schools that sponsor women's sand volleyball, putting the NCAA "emerging sport" well on its way to the 40 teams required to be an NCAA-sanctioned championship sport.
All of this is cause for excitement and optimism for Collier, a former Trojan student-athlete and pro beach player who has coached teams in a pair of Olympics and at numerous world championships.
"I believe we'll be very competitive this season, and better than we were last year," said Collier. "We have a good nucleus of returning players and some very talented new players, and most of them now have experience in the sand game. Plus, we are opening this great new on-campus stadium, which will give us a huge home court advantage, and the sport is starting to explode throughout the nation. It's a great time for women's sand volleyball, and especially for USC women's sand volleyball."
The Women of Troy must replace some key ingredients from its debut squad. Missing from 2012 are both players from USC's No. 1 team, Geena Urango and Sara Shaw, which went 19-17 overall and made it to the AVCA pairs quarters. Also gone are half of the Nos. 2 through 5 teams of last spring: Kelly Irvin (she joined with Kirby Burnham at the No. 3 and then No. 2 spots to go 22-14 and also advance to the AVCA pairs quarterfinals), Natalie Hagglund (she teamed with Katie Fuller at No. 2/3 and posted a 20-12 mark), Kendall Bateman (she was 13-8 with Sam Hirschmann and 3-5 with Eve Ettinger at No. 4) and Megan Thornberry (18-13 with Katie Duddridge at No. 5). Emily Young, who was 0-2 playing with Erin Kaupp, also did not return.
Among USC's 6 returnees, 6-2 junior Burnham is one of the most "sand"-experienced players on the current roster. This past summer, she competed in a pair of NORCECA events, an FIVB junior tourney and the Manhattan Beach Open. Fuller, a 6-2 senior, has completed her USC indoor career, where she was a 3-year starter who earned All-American third team acclaim in 2012. Hirschmann, a 5-10 junior who missed the last half of 2012 with a broken hand (she enters 2013 with an injury in her other hand), and 6-2 sophomore Ettinger previously played on the Women of Troy indoor team but now are concentrating on the sand game. Duddridge, a 5-6 sophomore, gained valuable sand time last spring on USC's lowest-ranked pairs team. Kaupp, a 5-10 senior, saw limited action in 2012.
USC's 3 transfers all have impressive resumes:
--Stevi Robinson, a 5-6 graduate student, helped Pepperdine to the 2012 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship after a stellar indoor career where she set the Waves' career digs record and was twice the West Coast Conference's Defensive Player of the Year. Among her other sand stops in 2012 were appearances in NORCECA tournaments, as well as in the Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach Opens.
--Alexa Stonish, a 5-7 sophomore, competed on the sand for Stetson last year, winning the Flight 2 title at the A-Sun Championship. She has played in various beach events on the East Coast.
--Brooke Fournier, a 5-8 junior, was Arkansas' starting libero in 2010 and is now making her first foray onto the sand.
Two ex-indoor Trojans will play on the sand for the first time in 2013: 6-3 senior Natasa Siljkovic of Serbia, who was a backup middle blocker in her just-completed 3-year career, and 5-9 soph Bria Russ, who was used mainly as a serving specialist in 2011.
Joining the Women of Troy as freshmen is a trio of promising players, including 1 with a strong sand background.
Christine Irvin (Marymount High in Los Angeles, Calif.), at 5-6, helped her prep indoor team advance to last year's state finals. She has competed in many AAU beach tourneys locally. Her sister, Kelly, played for USC on the sand in 2012 after playing indoors at both USC and Virginia. Her brother plays at Stanford, her father played at UCLA and she has uncles who played at USC and UCLA.
The other 2 frosh made their volleyball marks indoors: 5-8 Sydney Seau (The Bishop's School in La Jolla, Calif.), whose late father, Junior, starred in football at USC and the NFL, and 5-9 Erica Muller (Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.).
"Burnham, Robinson, Ettinger and Stonish all have a year of college sand play and, more importantly, last summer they worked with the USA Beach National Training Team," said Collier. "We'll look to them for experience and leadership, and ask them to show their teammates what it takes to compete at that National Team level. And, because only Fuller and Siljkovic played indoors this past fall, I've been able to train most of this team since September, unlike last year.
"I also now have a year of college coaching under my belt, so I have learned the level and type of play needed, which should help our team. Coaching college players with somewhat limited sand backgrounds requires different strategies than the Olympic-caliber beach players I had been coaching."
USC will host 7 events in its new Merle Norman Stadium in 2013. After the March 7 grand opening Alumni Match exhibition, the Women of Troy welcome Florida State and Loyola Marymount on March 10, Grand Canyon and Cal State Bakersfield on March 14, then Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount and UCLA on March 16-17, followed by Nebraska and Hawaii on March 22 and Pepperdine on March 26. Then, on April 27, USC will host the USA National Beach Team in an exhibition.
"Being able to train and compete on our own campus, instead of spending an hour or two every day traveling to train at the beach, is huge for us," said Collier, who will be aided this season by assistant coaches Andrew Fuller, a pro beach player who assisted Long Beach State's sand squad last year, and former Trojan player Jeff Carlson, who has played on the beach internationally. "We have a great new venue, which will help us develop a fan base."
The Women of Troy also travel to Moraga to play Pacific (March 19) and St. Mary's (March 20), then go to Long Beach State (March 28) and Pepperdine (April 6) and before tentatively going to Santa Barbara to face Santa Clara (April 13). They then participate in the USA Volleyball Beach Collegiate Challenge April 20-21 in Hermosa Beach, Calif., and then hopefully qualify for the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championship May 3-5 in Gulf Shores, Ala.
It all adds up to another page of history for a sport that was born on the nearby beaches of Southern California and for a school with a storied volleyball tradition both indoors (6 national championships, more than 3 dozen All-American first teamers) and on the beach (Trojan alums April Ross and Jennifer Kessy won a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics).
"As the sport of sand volleyball continues to grow, USC is on the cutting edge of it," said Collier. "We are ready and prepared to take the next step."