Ahead of us is an exciting year for the domestic development of beach volleyball. At press time, 29 teams in Division I and II had confirmed their participation in the second season of NCAA sand volleyball – 14 more teams than played last year. The sport continues to be officially qualified as an emerging sport for women and won’t become an NCAA championship sport until 40 institutions have sponsored programs for at least two years, which many predict will be after the 2014-15 season.
For now, the championship is hosted by the AVCA, where last year Pepperdine took first place in both the team and pairs competition. With the loss of the Waves’ star player Summer Ross to the pro circuit, however, the beach is wide open for new competitors to make a statement. Big name programs Stanford, UCLA, and Nebraska have all confirmed that they will be participating this season, but as of press time had yet to release a roster or schedule.
Ferocious Veteran Programs
With sand volleyball only in its second year as a varsity college sport, it doesn’t take much to be a veteran.
College of Charleston
Head Coach: Jason Kepner*
2012 season: Elyse Chubb/Lizzie Theesfeld and Emily Shelton/Kelly Kolich were knocked out in the first round of the AVCA Pairs Championship. In the team championship, C of C finished fourth after going 4-3 in regular season competition.
Key players: Darcy Dorton (Jr., 6'2"), Kari Fidelholtz (Fr., 5'11"), Kerstin Koehler (Jr., 6'2"), Kelly Kolich (Sr., 6'0"), Melissa Morello (Fr., 5'11"), Emily Shelton (Sr., 5'8"), Lizzie Theesfeld (So., 5'10"), Andi Zbojniewicz (So., 5'6").
Key losses: Elyse Chubb
Coach’s outlook: “This season we are looking to build upon last year’s trip to the Final Four. The girls learned so much. I am really looking forward to building on that solid base and experience. We only graduated one player and have added a great new group to the roster.”
Florida State University
Head coach: Danalee Corso
2012 season: FSU finished third at the AVCA Team National Championship after accumulating a regular season dual match record of 15-0. The pair of Jekaterina Stepanova and Jace Pardon lost in the pairs semifinals to Caitlin Ledoux and Tara Roenicke from Long Beach State and All-American duo Brittany Tiegs and Aurora Newgard lost to the same Long Beach State duo in the quarters.
Key players: Mallory Kiley (Sr., 6'0"), Aurora Newgard (Jr., 5'9"), Jace Pardon (So., 5'10"), Stephanie Pellitteri (So., 5'8"), Jessica McGregor (Jr., 5'8"), Sareea Freeman (Sr., 6'4").
Key losses: Jekaterina Stepanova, Brittany Tiegs
The numbers advantage: With the largest roster in the country (26 players), including FSU’s entire indoor team and 14 sand-only players, Coach Corso is sure to field a very strong squad, even after losing All-Americans Stepanova (to FIU) and Tiegs (to Hawaii).
Long Beach State
Head coach: Brian Gimmillaro*
2012 season: The 49ers lost in the final at the AVCA Team Championship to Pepperdine. The All-American duo of Caitlin Ledoux and Tara Roenicke made it to the final in the pairs championship, only to lose again to Pepperdine’s Summer Ross and Caitlin Racich.
Key players: Delainey Aigner-Swesey (Jr., 6'1"), Chelsea Cabrajac (So., 5'11"), Libby Fontanilla (Sr., 5'10"), Caitlin Ledoux (Grad, 6'2"), Tara Roenicke (Jr., 5'8").
Solid returning core: Long Beach State returns all ten of their top players from last year, including the pair that roared all the way to the final in the duals competition, Tara Roenicke and Caitlin Ledoux. Haleigh Hampton, half of last year’s No. 2 pair is injured but hopes to recover in time for the season. Coach Gimmillaro said their top five pairs will probably stay the same as last year, but also said, “We’ll see if any freshman can break in there.”
Head coach: Nina Matthies*
2012 season: The Waves won both the team and pairs divisions at the AVCA Collegiate National Championship, led by the All-American pairs of Caitlin Racich/Summer Ross and Kim Hill/Lilla Frederick. Pepperdine ended their season undefeated as a program.
Key players: Lilla Frederick (Sr., 5'10"), Kim Hill (Sr., 6'4"), Caitlin Racich (Sr., 6'1").
Key losses: Stevi Robinson (transfer to USC), Summer Ross
Game-changing loss: The unstoppable Summer Ross proved key to Pepperdine’s dominance last year. Ross has since decided to drop out of Pepperdine and go pro in hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics. The Waves might have a difficult time replacing her, but Ross’s former partner Caitlin Racich is still around for her senior season. Plus the younger Racich sister, Taylor, is now on the roster as well and promises to be a huge asset in the sand. And let’s not forget to mention returning fifth-year seniors and All-Americans Kim Hill and Lilla Frederick.
Head coach: Tim Loesch*
2012 season: Finished second in the inaugural A-Sun tournament with a record of 9-8. Partners Julie Bassett and Kaley Melville qualified for the AVCA Pairs Championships but lost to Long Beach’s Ledoux/Roenicke in the first round.
Key players: Julie Bassett (So., 5'9"), Katie DiGirolamo (Jr., 5'10"), Alisha Hoffman (Sr., 5'8"), Stephanie Marin (So., 5'3"), Kaley Melville (Jr., 5'11"), Maren Rygh (So., 6'0"), Madison Tormey (Fr., 5'8").
Key losses: Alexa Stonish (transfer to USC)
Prepping in the off-season: In November, the Hatters of Stetson scrimmaged against the NAIA school Webber International, coming out on top with seven wins, three losses, and two ties. “We are ahead of where we were last year,” Coach Loesch said of the scrimmage. “We have a lot of new faces, and they are playing at a pretty good level.”
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Head coach: Hal Messersmith*
2012 season: The Blazers ended the season with a team record of 6-4 and sent top duo Heather Thomas and Kirsten Gallagher to the AVCA Pairs Championship.
Key players: Rachel Fairbanks (Jr., 5'8"), Kirsten Gallagher (Sr., 6'2"), Kiriana Hirini (So., 6'1"), Sara Rishell (So., 6'2"), Bethanie Thomas (So., 6'1").
Key losses: Heather Thomas
Getting better with experience: “I think we’re going to be really good,” said Coach Messersmith. “We may not have that ace at the top, but we’ve definitely got depth, especially with [Thomas and Rishell, transfers from South Carolina and American, respectively] coming in. The big thing for us in our second year is that we know how to train better. Last year we had them training indoor and sand at the same time and kind of burnt them out, but we won’t be doing that this year.”
University of Hawaii
Head coach: Scott Wong*
2012 season: The All-American duo of Jane Croson and Ashley Lee made it to the AVCA Collegiate National Championship but lost in the first round to USC’s Geena Urango and Sara Shaw. Hawaii did not qualify for the team championship and ended the season with a 4-6 overall record.
Key players: Jane Croson (So., 5'11"), Ginger Long (So., 5'11"), Katie Spieler (Fr., 5'5"), Brittany Tiegs (So., 5'9").
Putting in the time: An eight-player core of Hawaii’s large, 21-deep roster have been training in the sand since the fall when they all started classes. Three more players came onto the team after Christmas. Now, with the addition of 10 women from the indoor team, Hawaii is practicing with all 21, looking to make a statement in the second year of play. Likely we’ll see Jane Croson and whoever she’s partnered with in the pairs championship. The transfer from Florida State, Tiegs, will be a big impact player unless she’s unable to play due to transfer process complications.
University of North Florida
Head coach: Steve Loeswick*
2012 season: Dagnija Medina and Emily Strack qualified for the AVCA Collegiate Pairs Championship, losing in the first round to Florida State’s Pardon and Stepanova. As a team, the Ospreys won the A-Sun conference tournament, ending the season with a 9-2 record.
Key players: Anna Budinska (Jr., 5'9"), Dagnija Medina (Sr., 6'0"), Emily Strack (Sr., 6'0"), Anna Wagner (Sr., 6'0"), Cari Whitmire (So., 5'8").
Transfer talent: “We are expecting to have a slightly deeper team this spring,” said Coach Loeswick, who did not lose any graduating seniors from last season. “We have especially high expectations for two newcomers: Anna Wagner, a very athletic fifth year from Appalachian State, and Cari Whitmire, who played most of the 2012 spring year for Jacksonville University on their top pair.”
Head coach: Anna Collier
2012 season: Two pairs from the Trojan squad qualified for AVCA Pairs Championship and were both eliminated in the quarterfinals. Geena Urango/Sara Shaw lost to Racich and Ross from Pepperdine and Kirby Burnham/Kelly Irvin to Pardon and Stepanova of Florida State.
Key players: Kirby Burnham (Jr., 6'2"), Katie Fuller (Sr., 6'2"), Stevi Robinson (Grad, 5'6"), Sara Shaw (Jr., 6'2"), Alexa Stonish (So., 5'7").
Key losses: Kelly Irvin, Geena Urango
International experience: Returning player Kirby Burnham has been very busy in the off-season. With new USC teammate Stevi Robinson, a transfer from Pepperdine, she advanced to the quarterfinals at a NORCECA Beach Circuit event in Aruba in December, losing to none other than Summer Ross and her partner Tealle Hunkus. Burnham also competed in the FIVB Beach Volleyball Junior World Championship in Halifax, Canada, over the summer with Florida State’s Jace Pardon.
Promising Newbies in 2013
Florida International University
Head coach: Rita Buck-Crockett
Potential: Volleyball Hall of Famer and former WPVA and AVP player Rita Buck-Crockett will take the helm at FIU and expects nothing less than to contend for the national championship. Using her international connections, Buck-Crockett has collected some excellent players from abroad, including Jekaterina Stepanova (Grad, 6'3"), formerly a standout at Florida State who made it to the pairs semifinals last year and will likely be FIU’s top player. Other athletes to watch include Kristine Monforte (So., 5'8"), Ksenia Sukhareva (Jr., 6'0"), Maryna Samoday (Jr., 6'0"), Emily Podschweit (Fr., 5'7"), and Camila Rosado (Jr., 5'7") who is still recovering from an injury but hopes to recover in time to make an impact this season.
Georgia State University
Head coach: Tami Audia*
Potential: In an exhibition against Florida State in November, GSU’s top pair of Lane Carico (Grad, 5'10") and Katie Madewell (Jr., 5'11") defeated FSU’s first team 8-0, however the Panthers finished the day with only 16 wins to FSU’s 32. Nine of the 12 members of the squad are freshman, so they have plenty of time for development and have a good chance of being a standout program in the future.
Head coach: John Cook*
Potential: A last minute commitment from one of the most volleyball-rich regions in the country, Nebraska will field a sand volleyball team from their impressive indoor roster, missing only seniors Hannah Werth, Gina Mancuso and Lauren Cook, who all signed contracts to play pro in Puerto Rico. The transfer from Tennessee Kelsey Robinson (Sr., 6'2") and freshman Alexa Strange (5'11") both have extensive beach volleyball backgrounds and will likely be the big players for the Huskers this year.
Head coach: Jon Wallace*
Potential: Santa Clara’s sand roster is almost exactly the same as their 2012 indoor roster, minus one player. Megan Anders, the 6'4" indoor middle has great potential to bring success to the Broncos, with her raw size and power. Last spring, the team got a jump-start on their sand experience by playing in an informal tournament against Pepperdine and UC Santa Barbara.
University of Louisiana at Monroe
Interim head coach: BJ Trame
Potential: At press time ULM had seven players on their roster, including two exclusive sand recruits, Amy Grabiec (Grad, 5'7"), from Cleveland, Ohio, who boasts experience in the NVL and Kylie Parks (Fr., 5'9"), an early high school graduate and indoor libero from the Tampa Bay area. Seniors Tetiana Sukach (5'8") and Zuzana Markova (6'0") won the National Collegiate Sand Volleyball Association (NSCVA) National Tournament in August of last year.
Who else is playing?
Florida Atlantic University
Head Coach Fernando Nelson*
Florida Gulf Coast University
Head Coach Dave Nichols*
Head Coach Michelle Collier*
Loyola Marymount University
Head Coach Tom Black*
Head Coach Damian Elder*
Head Coach Alan Segal*
Head Coach Rich Feller*
Cal State Bakersfield
Head Coach Aaron Shepardson*
Grand Canyon University, DII
Head Coach Kris Naber*
Head Coach Brent Crouch*
Head Coach TBA
University of Arizona
Head coach Steve Walker*
Head Coach Stein Metzger
University of San Francisco
Head Coach TBA
University of the Pacific
Head Coach Greg Gibbons*
*Also a member of the indoor coaching staff
Originally published in March/April 2013