Sand volleyball soars in preseason poll

The USC women’s sand volleyball team was voted the No. 2 team in the nation in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) preseason poll, which was released on Feb. 16. The only team to receive more votes than USC was Pepperdine, the defending national champion.

The Women of Troy had the No. 1 ranking last season on their way to a third-place finish in the AVCA national championship semifinals. USC reached the national semifinals each of the past two seasons, and members of the team have also won the pairs’ championship. Kirby Burnham and Stevi Robinson, who have graduated, won the pairs’ title in 2013, followed by Burnham and current sophomore Sara Hughes in 2014.

To complement their pairs championship, Burnham and Hughes also represented the Women of Troy as AVCA All-Americans.

USC garnered another accolade as well last season. Head coach Anna Collier, a USC athletic legend and graduate, earned AVCA Sand Volleyball Coach of the Year honors.

In addition to Pepperdine and USC, the preseason poll ranked Florida State No. 3 and Hawaii No. 4. Both teams were participants in last year’s national championship. Long Beach State rounded out the top five. Crosstown rival UCLA is ranked No. 7.

The Women of Troy have a strong home schedule this season that consists of 10 matches, with seven of them being broadcast by the Pac-12 Networks. High-profile home matches include USC hosting No. 1 Pepperdine and No. 8 St. Mary’s. USC will also host the Pac-12 Invitational, which includes Arizona, Arizona State, California and UCLA. The team looks to qualify for the fourth annual AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championships, which will be held during the first three days of May in Alabama.

The transition for sand volleyball from an emerging sport for women to an NCAA championship sport took a huge leap forward this offseason, as NCAA Division II and Division III membership approved the sport’s addition. A selection and bracketing committee will soon be established. In 2016, USC will be competing for an NCAA national sand volleyball championship. First, however, the Women of Troy seek their first AVCA national championship.

The Women of Troy will play in the Cardinal and Gold Alumni Match on March 5 at Merle Norman Stadium, followed by a scrimmage with the USA Beach National Team on the March 7. USC opens the season with a home match against TCU on March 12.