Texas got burned in its first taste of NCAA beach competition, but is ready to jump right back into the fire.
The Longhorns experienced an eye-opening introduction to the sand game during its stay in Hawaii, going 0-5 in the Queens Cup over the weekend and gettng swept by the Rainbow Wahines in a dual meet Tuesday.
Their teams went 3-27 across the five flights in the six duals, which included losing 3-2 to Nebraska, picking up victories from Keonilei Akana-Devin Kahahawai on Court 2 and Jordyn Byrd-Jenna Wenaas at No. 5. Native Hawaiians Akana and Kahahawai also won their match at No. 2 against Washington.
The Longhorns’ inexperienced beach players will take on more of the sport’s top programs Friday and Saturday as one of five teams in an event put on by No. 13 Long Beach State. Others are No. 16 Stetson, CSUN and Utah.
Texas is the defending NCAA women’s indoor volleyball champion and has enjoyed consistent excellence on the hardcourt, with four AIAW or NCAA titles and a record of advancing to the NCAA round of eight or better 16 times in the last 17 seasons.
Erik Sullivan, the Olympian and longtime indoors Texas associate head coach, is also the coach of the Longhorns’ startup beach program. He admitted that not winning has been culture shock to players accustomed to elite-level success.
“I love the way our girls are approaching it,” Sullivan told VolleyballMag.com from the airport in Hawaii as the team waited for its flight back to the mainland. “I love the way they’re competing, and I love the way they are dealing with their frustration of losing, because most of the girls in our program haven’t lost a lot in their careers.
“We knew coming in that we were likely to deal [with adversity], so we tried to tamper [the players’] expectations down a little bit. We communicated to them that we knew there are going to be some frustrations here,and that you are competitive, but that this is just part of the process, so try not to get too frustrated with that piece of it.”
Sullivan is confident that his Longhorns should be more in sync in the upcoming event in Long Beach after having gotten a better feel for beach doubles.
“By design, we’re playing everyone on the roster and not just 10 girls,” he notes, so continuity understandably was an issue in these first matches.
“We would see as our practices progressed that our girls got more comfortable, and then we saw improvement from day to day in Hawaii,” Sullivan said. “We have some kids with decent beach experience, some with a little bit and some with none at all. The girls have embraced the process of getting some more hours of training, of being in the sand, of playing in a different environment. It’s been enjoyable for them. They’ve had a good time even though it’s different and new.”
Akana and Kahahawai recorded program milestones of winning its first set and winning its first match, and were moved up to No. 1 in the dual against Hawaii.
“Keonilei and Devin will be in the upper half of our flights [this weekend,” Sullivan said. “There are some rules that we have to follow that are challenging because we are trying to move players around and change things up. The rules aren’t particularly designed for that. In our situation, we want to play all of our kids, change the lineup, switch teams, move players in and out, so we can find out what works best for us.”
Under collegiate beach rules, no team can move up or down more than one flight from match to match, a safeguard against “cramming.”
“The rules make sense for everybody that’s doing this in the model where there are separate [volleyball’ programs,” Sullivan acknowledged, “but for us, when we just want to play everybody, it becomes a little more of a challenge.”
Neophyte program or not, the name on the front of the jersey still reads “Texas,” so Sullivan understands that losing won’t be accepted for long.
“We are moving toward separate [indoor and beach] programs,” he said. “So within a few years, beach will become its own autonomous program without much crossover between the indoor and outdoor teams. With the way that things are built in beach volleyball, we do see an opportunity for us to be pretty good pretty quickly.”
No. 1 TCU plays No. 2 USC, weekend preview
TCU, profiled at length in our first installment last week, wasn’t jinxed by our coverage.
The top-ranked team in collegiate ball took care of unfinished business against LSU, which came in undefeated and ranked No. 4 nationally, dropping only one match out of 10 last weekend in home-sand victories over the Tigers on consecutive days in its Horned Frog Challenge, and solidifying its grip on the No. 1 spot.
TCU’s decorated No. 1 pair of Spanish nationals Daniela Alvarez and Tania Moreno (11-0 on the season) moved to the top rung on CollegeBeachVB.com’s ranking after two straight-set triumphs against the Tigers’ Ellie Shank and Kylie Deberg, who had been No. 1 but were bumped out of the top five. Alvarez-Moreno outscored Shank-Deberg 88-72 over four sets.
Horned Frogs coach Hector Gutierrez told VolleyballMag.com that even though Alvarez (a senior) and Moreno (a junior) have budding futures as a team representing Spain in professional international competitions, they plan to return to TCU next season. Alvarez would have remaining eligibility on the COVID year.
One of the delightful aspects of the collegiate sand game is that top teams seemingly have little fear of scheduling each other, and such is the case this weekend. Miami Beach will have more big volleyball doings than just the AVP when TCU (12-0) plays in the high-powered Surf & Turf Invitational hosted by No. 14 FIU on Friday and Saturday. Also competing are undefeated No. 2 USC and No. 15 FAU, and, yes, TCU will play all three of those ranked squads.
A highlight matchup of two of the nation’s top pairs would normally have occurred when Alvarez and Moreno (who have earned back-to-back CCSA Pair of the Week honors) played USC’s Megan Kraft and Delaynie Maple, 9-0 and ranked No. 5 by CollegeBeachVB.com. But Kraft is in La Paz, Mexico, paired with Emily Stockman for the Volleyball World Challenger.
Meanwhile, a bevy of ranked teams will gather in Gulf Shores, Alabama, site of the NCAA Championships, on Friday through Sunday for the March to May event hosted by UAB. Teams competing include No. 3 UCLA, No. 4 Florida State, No. 5 and undefeated Loyola Marymount, No. 6 LSU, No. 10 Georgia State, No. 19 Tulane and No. 20 South Carolina.
The Green Wave’s Emily Heintzelman and Samantha Mehlman were honored as the national Pair of the Week by AVCA/CollegebeachVB.com and as the Conference USA Pair of the Week. UCLA’s No. 1 pair of Lexy Denaburg and Maggie Boyd is ranked No. 2 nationally by CollegebeachVB.com and was the Pac-12’s Pair of the Week.
Also, No. 7 Grand Canyon will host a competition in Phoenix that includes No. 18 Pepperdine and Arizona State.