Things to know about the 2018 National Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship that starts Friday in Gulf Shores, Ala.:
ESPN on board: For the first time, the event will be covered by the worldwide leader. The play-by-play announcers will be Courtney Lyle and Sam Gore, the analysts Dain Blanton and Holly McPeak, and sideline reporters Holly Rowe and Nell Fortner.
Blanton has been a volunteer assistant coach for USC, but told us he has resigned that position and is working full-time for ESPN this week. Rowe has been part of ESPN’s indoors coverage, including the final four, and Fortner, who does volleyball analysis primarily for the Longhorn Network also does ESPN during the season and the indoors selection show.
Friday’s coverage starts at 10 a.m. Eastern on ESPNU. It switches to ESPN2 at 2 p.m. Saturday and picks up at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2. But they’ll switch to ESPN at 2 p.m. for the NCAA championship match. Matches on the networks will be streamed on ESPN3. Click here for the complete ESPN schedule.
Seeding say what? According to the NCAA, the three bids from the East went to Florida State, South Carolina and Florida International, but LSU (seeded No. 7), which got an at-large, is seeded better than FIU (No. 8).
“Being the first East region at-large team is good,” LSU coach Russell Brock said. “We needed all the head-to-head wins that we got against West Coast teams this season.
“Every year that our program has grown, we’ve had some firsts and some are more significant than others. First time last year to go to nationals was a huge first and to have a good enough resume to get an at-large bid this season is probably more difficult than some of the other firsts that we’ve had. We’re grateful for the opportunity to go and compete again in Gulf Shores.”
First-round matchups: Back to local time (Alabama is in the Central time zone) as top-seeded UCLA (35-3) plays No. 8 FIU (22-10) at 9 a.m. This will be the first meeting between the teams.
No. 4 Florida State (30-6) takes on No. 5 USC (25-12) at 10 a.m. USC beat the Seminoles 3-2 in March at Manhattan Beach in their only meeting this year. USC won the first two NCAA titles, beating Pepperdine 3-2 in last year’s championship match.
The 11 a.m. start has the closest thing to a home team, No. 7 LSU (26-12) playing second-seeded Pepperdine (24-3). Pepperdine is 3-0 this season against LSU. It beat the Tigers 4-1 in February in Phoenix, again 3-2 in March at Manhattan Beach and then 3-2 a week later at South Carolina.
And at noon, third-seeded Hawai’i (35-3) plays No. 6 South Carolina (24-7, which also goes by USC). In their only meeting this season, Hawai’i won at South Carolina 3-2 in March.
All eight teams play again Friday with the four losers playing elimination matches at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. and the winners facing off at 3 and 4.
FIU in for the first time: This is the sixth year of the program and coach Rita Buck-Crockett was obviously happy to get the nod.
“I am beyond excited for my team,” Buck-Crockett said. “These ladies have worked so hard for this chance and it has come to fruition.
“It’s especially exciting for the seniors who were freshmen the last time we were at nationals (when it was the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship in 2015) just to watch. I’m so proud for FIU to be recognized as one of the premier beach volleyball teams in the nation. Hard work gets you there, and perseverance and our game faces will keep us going.”
FIU has players on its beach roster not only from California, Florida and Puerto Rico, but also from Canada, Austria, Brazil, Norway, Guatemala, Italy, Switzerland and Cyprus.
International Volleyball Hall of Famer Buck-Crockett, also the head indoors coach at the Miami school, played on the 1980 and ’84 USA Olympic teams.
Big West pairs: The league tournament ended Saturday and Sunday it held its pairs competition. Cal Poly’s Tiadora Miric and Torrey Van Winden beat Nele Barber and Sasha Karelov of Long Beach State 17-21, 21-18, 15-9 in the final.