2012 USC Women's Sand Volleyball Outlook
March 6, 2012
Women's sand volleyball makes its debut in 2012 as an NCAA-sponsored "emerging" sport.
It is fitting that USC is fielding a team this inaugural season. After all, the sport was born on Southern California's beaches. Furthermore, it is perfect fit for a school like USC with such a successful volleyball tradition, both on the sand and indoor.
In its storied indoor history, USC has won six national championships and produced more than three dozen All-American first teamers along with numerous Olympians and beach stars (including April Ross and Jennifer Kessy, who currently rank among the world's top teams).
USC's women have fared well in recent years in collegiate sand play, winning USA Volleyball's 2009 Beach Collegiate Challenge, then tying for first in 2010 and placing second in 2011.
"Any opportunity for women to play collegiate athletics is a win-win situation," said USC head coach Anna Collier, a former USC student-athlete and pro beach player who has coached teams in a pair of Olympics and at numerous world championships. "Sand volleyball is about to explode in this country and at USC we want to be out ahead of it.
"Our goal is to build one of the signature women's sand volleyball programs in the nation. USC is a pre-eminent university and we have an outstanding volleyball tradition here. Sand volleyball had its genesis on the beaches of Southern California and the sport remains so strong in this area, especially at the juniors level, which should help in our recruiting."
Most of USC's 2012 sand roster comes from the Women of Troy indoor team, which has advanced to the NCAA Final Four the past two seasons.
Geena Urango, competing as a graduate student, received USC's first scholarship in women's sand volleyball and will captain the 2012 team. As a 5-10 defensive specialist and outside hitter, she appeared in 126 indoor matches for the Women of Troy in her four-year (2007-10) career. She competed at the 2011 World University Games U23 beach tourney.
A pair of 2011 All-American first team indoor players at USC--senior Kendall Bateman and sophomore Natalie Hagglund--are playing on the sand this spring. The 5-11 Bateman started the past 3 seasons at setter and established USC's career assists record. The 5-9 Hagglund has been the Women of Troy's starting libero the past two years and was a member of the 2011 U.S. Junior National Team. She is also an experienced sand player, playing for the USA U19 program and earlier winning Junior Olympics national and state titles. In 2009, she was part of the youngest team to qualify for the main draw of the AVP Manhattan Beach Open.
Also coming over from the indoor Women of Troy are sophs Kirby Burnham (a 6-2 backup outside hitter the last two seasons) and Sam Hirschmann (a 5-10 reserve outside hitter the past two years who redshirted in 2011) and freshmen Emily Young (a 6-2 backup opposite hitter in 2011) and Eve Ettinger (she redshirted in 2011 as a 6-2 middle blocker). Ettinger has participated on USA Volleyball beach teams the past three years.
Kelly Irvin, a 5-9 grad student, was Virginia's starting setter in 2007 and 2008 and then transferred to USC and was a backup to Bateman. She is an accomplished sand player, as she was the 2005 and 2006 AAU Beach Player of the Year. She won a gold medal at the 2006 Beach Junior Olympics, placed ninth at the 2006 FIVB U19 Beach World Championship and won a gold at the 2005 AAU Beach National Championship.
Like Irvin, 5-11 Megan Thornberry began her career elsewhere before coming to USC. She was Wake Forest's starting libero for four seasons (2007-10) and is now a grad student at Troy.
"We will be extremely competitive," said Collier. "As long as we execute the skills required in sand volleyball, we can compete with--and beat--any school in the nation. We just need to stay in sand volleyball system, which can be challenging for non-sand players."
USC's tallest players--Fuller, Shaw, Burnham, Young and Ettinger--along with Hagglund didn't begin training with the sand squad until early March because of their indoor commitments.
"We have had a longer time to train our defensive, quick-type players who play behind the taller blockers and that has been good for us," said Collier. "It is an easier transition for the taller blockers to go from indoor to the sand than it is for the quick defensive players, and the play of those defensive players can be the key to victory."
Helping Collier train the 2012 Women of Troy are assistant coach Cookie Stevens, who is also an assistant with the indoor team, and volunteer assistant Julie Sprague Deckert, an 11-year beach pro. Katie Olsovsky, who helped lead USC to the 2002 and 2003 NCAA titles and then played professionally overseas and on the AVP, is the program's director of operations.
USC is hosting three events in 2012 at its temporary home, the picturesque Annenberg Community Beach House courts in Santa Monica, while on-campus courts are being constructed. The Women of Troy welcome Loyola Marymount in the season opener on March 10 and the teams will meet again in Santa Monica on March 31, with both matches featuring both a team competition and a pairs championship. USC is also hosting a 3-day, 4-team tourney March 16-18 that includes Pepperdine, Long Beach State and Florida State.
USC will go to a 4-team tournament in Tallahassee, Fla., on March 24 and 25 to face Florida State, Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast, then meets Long Beach State (March 28) and Pepperdine (April 7) on their home sand. The Women of Troy will participate in the annual USA Volleyball Beach Collegiate Challenge April 14-15 in nearby Hermosa Beach and then, if they qualify among the top four teams in the nation or the top 16 pairs, in the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championship April 27-29 in Gulf Shores, Ala.
If all goes as planned, there is a strong chance that USC's inaugural season on the sand will be a winning addition to the Women of Troy volleyball tradition.