CCSA beach volleyball preview: FSU, LSU, S. Carolina teams to beat

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Florida State is a perennial favorite to be in the national-championship picture/FSU photo

Updated February 22 to note that Tulane is ranked No. 18

The Coastal Collegiate Sports Association (CCSA) is a conglomerate of schools from different conferences, including Florida State (No. 4 in the final 2017 AVCA poll) of the ACC and LSU (No. 6) of the SEC. And that’s where they start this year in the AVCA preseason poll.

For that matter, South Carolina of the SEC ended at No. and starts at No. 8. FSU, of course, is a perennial national-championship contender, while LSU came on strong last year.

Four other league teams are in the poll, No. 11 Florida International of Conference USA, No. 12 Georgia State of the Sun Belt, No. 16 Florida Atlantic of Conference USA and No. 18 of the American Athletic Conference.

The rest of the league includes UAB of Conference USA, College of Charleston of the Colonial Athletic Association, and UNCW of the Colonial.

In 2019, South Miss and TCU will join the CCSA.

UAB
2017: 12-19, 0-6
Outlook: The Blazers return Avei Logoleo, Kenley Adams, Tressa Buckland, Haley Jared and Gabbi Moreno and get two graduate transfers in Devon May from Canada’s Simon Fraser and Samford’s Erin Bognar, plus freshman Kaylee McClure.
“I am excited about the progress we’ve made in training and where we are at with the team we have put together,” UAB coach Kyra Iannone said. “We’re excited to play all the best teams in the country and play the hardest schedule possible. Our goal is to be a championship team and to do that we have to compete against the best and I feel like we have created that path with our schedule.”

College of Charleston
2017: 11-11, no conference record
Outlook: The returning group of senior Krissy Mummey and juniors Kennedy Madison, McKala Rhodes and Allison Beckman are joined by newcomers senior Natalie Tucker, sophomore Mandy Napierala and freshman Logan Manusky.
“With a talented group of returning athletes — nine of our 10 starters from the majority of last season — we’re excited for a challenging schedule in our second season of competition in the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association,” said seventh-year coach Jason Kepner.

Florida Atlantic
2017: 21-12, 3-5
Outlook: The returners include Gabrielle Dischler, Nicole Grant, Jessalyn Kinlaw and Nicole Navarro, with key Sandy Owls newcomers in Johannah Cummines and Amanda Silva.
Two of our seniors, Gabby Dischler and Jessalyn Kinlaw, I think are going to have a great season,” fourth-year coach Capri Grotowski said. “Gabby was an honorable mention All-American (in 2016) and Jess was in the running last year. We have another senior. Brittany Pellitteri, who has been crushing it defensively and I’m really excited to  see her come out and show what she’s got. I think we’ll be pretty deep this year. In the past we counted on our top three teams to get a lot of those wins.”

Florida International
2017: 24-15, 8-5
Outlook: Almost the entire lineup returns, including Estefanie Bethancourt, Anabela Sataric, Margherita Bianchin, Fredrica Frasca, Lina Bernier and Taija Thomas. Two newcomers join the Panthers in Erica Zembyla, a junior transfer from UAB, and graduate-transfer Erin Byrne from Susquehanna.
“This year’s team looks extremely focused and very physical. I think coming from last year –- and the disappointment of not making nationals –- the team is very hungry, and they want don’t want to leave any doubt that they are the ones that should go to nationals this year,” fifth-year FIU coach Rita Buck-Crockett said. “They have been working very hard during the offseason, and now during the preseason, to make sure that they are in tip-top shape and in good physical condition. Our pairs have been selected early and have been working with their teams already and making sure that they are in the best possible place to be successful.”

Florida State
2017: 29-9, 8-0
Outlook: The Seminoles won the CCSA title for the second straight year, but had a tough time in the NCAA Championships. A strong core returns, including Macy Jerger, Vanessa Freire (the CCSA tourney MVP), Tory Paranagua (also the CCSA tourney MVP), Brook Kuhlman and Francesca Goncalves. Newcomers include highly touted freshman Madison Fitzpatrick and freshman Alaina Chacon. And you can count new volunteer assistant coach Nick Lucena, the accomplished beach pro who joins the staff of his wife, head coach Brooke Niles.
“This year we are a super athletic team,” Niles said. “We have a lot of depth and some incoming freshmen that are really dynamic. We are going to take one weekend at a time focus on our side of the net. If we do these things I see us being contenders for a national championship.”
FSU always figures into the national-title hunt.
Obviously there are some really strong West Coast schools in Pepperdine, UCLA and USC. There are also some big time contenders in our CCSA conference,” Niles said. “Our bottom line is that we can’t underestimate anyone. Coaches are getting better and better as well as the teams that they coach. Our strong schedule this year will hopefully prepare us for NCAAs and our conference tourney.”

Georgia State
2017: 21-14, 6-5
Outlook: Three graduate transfers should make quote a difference. Georgia Johnson, Olivia Stasevich, Brooke Weiner and Amie Held return. They are joined by 6-foot sisters Annika Van Gunst and Teegan Van Gunst, who had strong indoors careers at Georgia Tech, Tiffany Creamer, who is from suburban Atlanta and played indoors at Stetson, and freshman Eden Hawes.
“Each program continues to improve. If the fall exhibitions are any indication of where the level of play is headed for this season, fans can expect to see some intense, competitive, fun battles,” Georgia State coach Beth Van Fleet said.

LSU’s Kristen Nuss/MG Miller, LSU Athletics Photography

LSU
2017: 27-8, 13-2
Outlook: The No. 1 pair of sophomores Kristen Nuss and Claire Coppola lead a group that includes quite a bit of experience, some newcomers and a big-name graduate-transfer in indoor All-American middle in Wisconsin’s Haleigh Nelson. Also back are Maddie Ligon, Riley Young and Megan Davenport. There are two other graduates, former LSU indoors outside Gina Tillis and Texas A&M’s Emily Hardest. The roster includes five freshmen.
Last year, LSU rode a 23-match winning streak during the season and made the NCAA Championships for the first time.
“Last year I think we were able to sneak up on some people,” said LSU coach Russell Brock, who has been with the program since it started and starts his second year as head coach. “Clearly this year after coming off a great season there will be less opportunity to do that. That just means we have to be more disciplined, be more prepared, be better trained and if we do all those things we can have even more success.”

South Carolina
2017: 23-11, 11-5
Outlook: Seven experienced players, each with 22 or more victories, return in Ali Denney, Franky Harrison, Julia Mannisto, Carly Schneider, Katie Smith, Macie Tendrich and Shannon Williams. Three indoor graduate transfers join the Gamecocks in Duke’s Cadie Bates, Creighton All-American setter Lydia Dimke and Clemson’s Leah Perri.
“This is the deepest we’ve ever been and the level of competition we’ve seen at practice is driving our team to new heights, fifth-year coach Moritz Moritz said. “We need that drive from within our own roster, because we have a really challenging schedule ahead of us and it’s going to take a full team effort to get us back to Gulf Shores.”

Tulane
2017: 24-13, 4-10
Outlook: The Green Wave returns a solid core in Anna Chin, Kaylie McHugh, Tarin Mergener Maddy Mertz and Lan Nguyen, plus five key roster additions in Ashley Delgado, Rio Frohoff, Addison Hermstad and Carleigh Smeniuk. “
We’ve improved our coaching staff, with the additions of Shane Spellman and Ali Wood Lamberson and added depth to our roster,” coach Wayne Holly said, “which I expect to translate into improved performance and results throughout the season.”

UNCW
2017: 13-13, no conference record, but the Seahawks were 0-4 in the CCSA tournament. Outlook: Key returners include Sarah Kelly, Maddy Kline, Nicole Lott and Sarah Kelly.
Newcomers include Reagan Evans, JM Lewandowski and Brynn Montgomery.
“Entering our third season we feel our team has a lot more depth and experience that will certainly help our competitive edge,” coach Amy Bambenek said. “We have a combination of year-round, beach-only athletes that will provide a deeper knowledge into the strategies of the game, in combination with our dual-sport athletes who bring some needed firepower and a strong blocking presence at the net.
“Competing in the CCSA allows our players to compete against some of the best teams on the East Coast and this season we have hopes of pushing the limits and making more of an impact in our conference standing.”

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