Sand volleyball looks to close out perfect season

As the 2015 season comes to a close, nobody has been able to stop the No. 1-ranked USC sand volleyball team. In their fourth consecutive week atop the AVCA national rankings, the Women of Troy (19-0) will look to finish off the season strong when they travel down to Irvine for a pair of dual matches against Concordia University and Irvine Valley College on Tuesday.

Of USC’s 19 dual matches played this season, 12 of them have been 5-0 sweeps, while five more have been 4-1 wins. The Women of Troy hope to maintain that spotless record when they face the two new collegiate sand programs.

USC will first play against the Concordia Eagles, a team in its first year of existence. The last time these two teams faced off was in a game televised on Pac-12 Networks back on April 2 at Merle Norman Stadium, where the Women of Troy easily defeated the Eagles by a 5-0 score. The No. 3 pairing of seniors Eve Ettinger and Meg Norton clinched the win for USC, delivering a 21-2, 21-4 pounding of Concordia’s Celeste Snider and Kyra Auten.

Immediately following that match, USC will take on the host, Irvine Valley College, for the first time ever. An NAIA school, the IVC Lasers are on a three-game win streak and look to put up a fight against the mighty Women of Troy. Head coach and 2014 AVCA National Coach of the Year Anna Collier, however, hopes to use these two matches as a chance to improve on some of the little things before closing out the regular season and heading into the AVCA Championships.

“We’re hoping to improve on our setting, especially in the wind, and on our serving,” Collier said. “The beach over there [in Irvine] is very windy, so getting used to serving and setting in the wind is very important, and I’ve been stressing that to the girls this week.”

It has been a long stretch of games for the Women of Troy this week as well. After sending their five seniors off in winning fashion last Thursday on Senior Day at Merle Norman Stadium, USC took a trip to Hermosa Beach over the weekend for the USAV Beach Collegiate Challenge. The Women of Troy easily swept Santa Clara (6-4) and Boise State                         (3-10) to notch their 18th and 19th wins of the season, while three USC pairs made it to the final round of bracket play in the pairs championship. While USC’s No. 2 pairing of junior Alexa Strange and sophomore Sophie Bukovec took home second place in the silver pairs’ bracket, the  No. 1 duo consisting of sophomores Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes took home the gold-bracket crown and the No. 4 pairing of sophomores Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler won the bronze-bracket crown. Furthermore, Eve Ettinger and Meg Norton advanced to the silver quarterfinals, while freshman Jenna Belton and senior Bria Russ at the five spot advanced to the bronze semifinals. After adding two wins to their record and sending those three pairs to the finals of bracket play in Hermosa, Collier is excited for the challenge down in Irvine.

“The extra prep we can get is exactly why we schedule these kinds of matches at the end of the season, especially after we play some tough matches like we did over the weekend,” Collier said. “We had a day off yesterday, we figured out what we needed to work on, and then we’ll try and execute it as best we can the next time we’re on the court.”

The first tipoff between the Women of Troy and the Concordia Eagles will start at 1:30 p.m. The match against the host Irvine Valley Lasers will begin at 3 p.m.

Following the last match of the season, the Women of Troy will play in the Pac-12 Invitational in Santa Monica on April 18 and 19. Should USC qualify, the AVCA Sand Volleyball Collegiate Championships begin on May 1.

Last season, the team did not lose a single match in the Pac-12 Tournament but fell to Hawai’i and Pepperdine in the AVCA Championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama.