One by one, one way or another, they found their way to Fort Worth.

Some came for graduate degrees. Some for a fresh start. Some hailed from California. Some from the South. One, Ana Vergara, even made the trip to TCU from Cantabria, Spain.

And when the transfer period was over, and everyone had alas made it to Texas from whatever route they so chose, coach Hector Gutierrez was able to look at his finalized roster for the 2022 beach volleyball season. What he saw was a team that could undeniably contend with any in the country.

“I am excited and the girls know that. Winning a championship is hard,” said Gutierrez, who is in his sixth year coaching the Frogs. “It’s really hard, and not everyone can do it. But I told the girls: Having the team to do it is even harder. Putting the team together who can win it is harder. You cannot win if you don’t have the team, but we have the team, we have the team who can fight for it. There’s no doubt.

“There’s other great teams — UCLA, USC, Florida State, there’s really tough schools. But we have the team to do it, to have a shot. That’s what I’m excited about.”

So strong, in fact, is TCU’s roster, that when founder Mike Placek polled a committee of beach volleyball experts on who the surprise team of the year will be, the Frogs were almost a unanimous selection. Given that nearly unanimous nod, it is not difficult to see why.

TCU, ranked No. 6 by the AVCA and 4 by Placek’s committee, is returning nine of 10 starters from a team that finished 26-10, went undefeated at home, and made its first NCAA Championship appearance. And yet, some of those returners might not even see the sand this season, so active was Gutierrez on the transfer portal recruiting experienced talent.

Joining the Frogs for 2022 are graduate transfers Alexis Filippone, a 6-foot-2 blocker won 63 matches at Pepperdine, and Megan Muret, a 5-foot-9 All-American out of UCLA. Accompanying Filippone in the move from Malibu is Sutton Mactavish, a Texan whom Gutierrez initially recruited out of high school who competed on courts three and two for the Waves.

Flying under the radar on the transfer portal was former Tulane All-American defender Kaylie McHugh, who gave Gutierrez fits while she competed for the Green Wave. Now she’s donning the purple and white.

“I remember when we were in the same conference as Tulane I said ‘Gosh this girl is so good!’ Her ball control, she’s always in system, her setting — you can pass anywhere on the court and she’s going to put you in system, it’s insane,” Gutierrez said. “She was surprised when I called her.”

The glut of transfers will also be bolstered by a strong recruiting class that includes Vergara, a 20-year-old freshman from Spain who took a fifth in the Leuven one-star tournament on the Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour this summer and made the finals of the CEV U21 Championships.

Returning, of course, is TCU’s court one pairing of Daniela Alvarez and Tania Moreno, who finished 27-9 in 2021 and have designs on qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games representing Spain.

Puerto Rican Maria Gonzalez is back as well, as is her partner, fellow sophomore Rochelle Scott. Junior Hailey Brockett, who finished 28-7 in 2021 with Olivia Blackburn — now the volunteer assistant — is also a strong member of a lineup that got exponentially deeper in a hurry.

“On paper, it would make sense that we were one of the best,” Gutierrez said. “Now we have to play, of course. We brought in a lot of good players and experience which is pretty good to have. We have four transfers who come with a lot of experience and not a lot of people have that. Normally you get one or two transfers a year but four? Who are legit players with experience on the beach? Yeah, we’re pretty fortunate to have them.”

In a savvy training move, Gutierrez saved a week of training hours in the fall and used them to begin training a week earlier this spring, hauling the team to Hermosa Beach, California, for a week-long training camp.

“The girls really enjoyed it and it’s different when you have a training camp somewhere else. It was really good,” Gutierrez said. “For how long the break was and how the girls showed up and practiced, it was really good.”

Just how good this new-look team is will be tested early, at Florida State’s season-opening tournament this weekend. The Frogs will meet Florida Atlantic, Alabama Birmingham, Cal Poly, and Southern Miss, which precedes a home tournament that draws South Carolina, Stetson, Georgia State, Florida State, and Central Arkansas.

“This year,” Gutierrez said, “I think we’re really going to see what they’re capable of.”

More NCAA Beach Volleyball

LSU not deterred by lineup turnover
Devon Newberry and the UCLA Bruins are guns-a-blazing heading into 2022
USC’s Hailey Harward, the constant search to find and bring joy to the beach

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