GULF SHORES, Alabama — Beth Van Fleet ran around and hugged every one of her players, assistant coaches, lots of moms and dads and friends, looked for her husband and kid but couldn’t find them, and then even ran over to the team bus driver to give her a hug.
It was that kind of euphoria for upstart 10th-seeded Georgia State, which has made the most of this NCAA National Collegiate Beach Championship trip and is one of six teams left heading into Saturday.
And there was LSU, saving its best for last, the season on the brink against TCU. The sixth-seeded Tigers finally, after a long campaign, beat a team better than themselves.
After a day interrupted by rain, when the wind kicked up and affected everything in the last five of six matches played, here’s now the tournament stands.
Because of the rain, the two winners-bracket matches that are normally played on Friday will be Saturday morning when top-seeded USC plays fifth-seeded Florida State at 8 a.m. Central, followed by third-seeded UCLA facing Georgia State.
Then at 1 p.m., fourth-seeded Loyola Marymount get the UCLA-Georgia State loser and at 2 p.m. LSU gets the USC-FSU loser. Finally, the UCLA-Georgia State and USC-FSU winners play at 3.
Gone from the field are eighth-seeded Florida Atlantic and second-seeded TCU.
This is how the day unfolded:
USC 3, FLORIDA ATLANTIC 0 — It was darker than normal at 9 a.m. and the storm was coming, but the Trojans kept on rolling. They are 34-1 after winning their 33rd dual in a row. USC didn’t know it at the time, but its day was over.
FAU, which advanced out of the round of 16 by beating Stanford, dropped to 23-11 with a match later in the day. Click here for the USC recap and boxscore.
THUNDERSTORM ROLLS IN — So action was postponed until 1 p.m., but the first serve of the next match turned out to be about 1:30. At that time the wind was estimated at 13 mph with gusts up to 18 mph.
FLORIDA STATE 3, LMU 1 — The wind was a factor but the Seminoles were unfazed as they improved to 30-9. FSU lost to USC both times they played this season. LMU dropped to 30-8. Click here for the FSU recap and boxscore.
UCLA 3, LSU 0 — The Bruins continued to have their way with LSU, improving to 33-7 by beating the Tigers for the third time this season. UCLA won three matches in a fairly quick two sets each, leaving LSU (31-11). Click here for the UCLA recap and boxscore.
GEORGIA STATE 3, TCU 2 — Georgia State hadn’t been in the NCAA tournament since 2016. The Panthers won their first match ever by knocking out No. 7 Cal Poly on Wednesday. But Friday, they were down 2-0 and lost the first set on the other three courts.
They won at No. 4 as Angel Ferary and sister Bella beat TCU’s Maria Gonzalez and Ana Vergara 11-21, 21-18, 16-14.
They won at No. 2 when Eden Hawes and Maddy Delmonte beat Sutton MacTavish and Kaylie McHugh 16-21, 21-14, 15-13.
So it came down to No. 3, where Yasmine Kuck and Kayla Whetstone lost the the first set to Alexis Filiponne and Hailey Brocket 21-16. But the GSU pair rallied, winning the second 23-21 and the third, 15-13.
Whetstone, the graduate-student transfer from FGCU, who a year almost to the day earlier had shoulder surgery and happens to be from Arlington, Texas, not far from TCU, was ecstatic.
“I would say that me and my partner Yasmine thrive in those moments,” said Whetstone, who was not oblivious to what the situation was and was fired up with her teammates cheering them on.
“We knew halfway through the second set it was going to come down to us.”
Van Fleet, the former Georgia State indoors great who had a pro playing career, has been a Panther most of her adult life. She has been at the Atlanta school since 2010, first as an assistant who helped start the beach program and has been the head coach since 2013-2014.
So these NCAA victories have been a long time coming.
“We just keep focusing on going 1-0,” Van Fleet said. “We’re not trying to win a national championship. We’re here to to 1-0 every time we play.”
That’s happened a lot lately. Georgia State has won 14 matches in a row, which includes going 4-0 to win the Conference USA Championship and NCAA bid that goes with it.
“We figured out our pairs pretty early and a lot of teams were still switching them up in the last month, and I think this is the time where that pays off,” Van Fleet said. “Our pairs have gone through some sort of conflict, they’ve had some arguments, they’ve had some disagreements, they’ve overcome those and they’re stronger for it.”
To wit, Georgia State is 28-11.
“We’ve lost a lot of games this season, a lot of close ones,” Van Fleet said. “And all of that served us well to be in this moment to be confident and play without any fear.”
TCU dropped to 39-4 with its second loss in three matches, but the worst was yet to come.
Click here for the Georgia State recap and boxscore.
LMU 3, FAU 0 — LMU improved to 31-8 as it made short work of FAU, which ended its season 23-12. Click here for the LMU recap and boxscore.
LSU 3, TCU 2 — LSU (32-11) had one victory over LMU, back in March, after continually playing — and losing to — the five teams seeded above it. This time the Tigers broke through after losing their two previous matches this season to TCU.
“If you’re gonna do it, you want to do it here in the elimination match,” LSU coach Russell Brock said. “If we have beaten them four times and came here and lost, that would be pretty disappointing. I’d rather lose four times and come here and beat them and be extremely gratified and proud of these kids for battling that way.”
LSU lost the first set on four of the courts, but came back on Nos. 2, 3 and 5 to win the dual. The courts were finishing within minutes of each other, and it came down to to No. 5 where Sierra Caffo and Ashlyn Rasnick-Pope prevailed.
Click here for the LSU recap.
PLEASE JOIN THE TEAM!
Keep free volleyball journalism free by becoming a VolleyballMag.com Sustaining Member: https://volleyballmag.com/sustaining-membership/
Or make a contribution through Venmo @VolleyballMag