The No. 3-ranked USC women’s sand volleyball team split its season opener in the first-ever competition at the brand-new Merle Norman Stadium Sunday afternoon in front of a large home crowd. The Women of Troy (1-1) defeated Loyola Marymount 4-1 and narrowly lost to No. 4 Florida State 3-2.
The Women of Troy opened up the day on a good note by soundly defeating LMU (0-2). USC got off to a good start with the USC pair of junior Brooke Fournier and senior Natasha Siljkovic defeating the Lions’ Ashley Maxfedlt and Taylor Sciocsia in straight sets, 21-13, 21-9. However, LMU would answer the Trojans when Amber Mirabello and Hannah Tedrow swept the USC pair of junior Sam Hirschmann and freshman Sydney Seau 21-18, 21-19.
With the match tied at 1-1, the USC’s second-best pair of senior Katie Fuller and graduate student Stevi Robinson came out to sweep the LMU pair of Rachelle Suaava and Anne Marie Taylor 21-15, 21-12 to give the Women of Troy a 2-1 lead that they would not give back.
The dual was clinched by USC with sophomores Eve Ettinger and Alexa Stonish defeating Avery Bush and Litara Keli in straight sets 21-15, 21-12.
USC’s top-ranked pair of junior Kirby Burnham and sophomore Bria Russ would then put the icing on the cake with a come-from-behind, three-set win over Felicia Arriola and Kenna Crouse, 18-21, 21-15, 15-11, to give the Women of Troy their first win in the new stadium.
“That first win was important because I thought that it instilled a sense of confidence in our team, and it was a relief to get that first win under our belt,” Robinson said.
In the second match of the doubleheader, USC took on No. 4-ranked Florida State but would struggle to find its groove early, which ultimately proved costly.
“I felt we played okay and thought we were a little more nervous than I thought we would be with the whole ambiance of the new stadium — the band, the crowd and not to mention an experienced Florida State team that beat us last year as well,” head coach Anna Collier said.
USC’s fourth- and fifth-ranked pairs opened up the dual with losses in straight sets, although they were close throughout. The No. 5-ranked pair of Hirschmann and Seau narrowly lost to the Florida State pair of Kristina and Stephanie Pelliterri, 21-19, 21-19.
“We competed in every game against Florida State,” Collier said. “The overall match is really only a difference in four points, which is really good for us with the limited experience that we have.”
The Seminoles (2-0) clinched victory by sweeping the pair of Ettinger and Stonish 21-17, 21-10.
Even with the match already decided, USC fought back with the top-ranked pair of Burnham and Russ, sweeping its match against the Seminoles. The second-ranked pair of Fuller and Robinson also won its match in a three-set thriller 21-16, 18-21, 15-12.
“Obviously, we would have liked to come out with the overall win, but for being a new team and only a few of us having experience from last year, I thought we did pretty well,” Robinson said.
In just its second season, the team is already making large strides toward becoming one of the top squads in the country and is currently ranked No. 3. It finished 7-4 last year in its inaugural season. However, experience remains the main issue for the Women of Troy.
“We don’t have a lot of beach experience, and these girls are just coming from an indoor program so we don’t have a lot of competitions under our belt,” Collier said. “So bottom line, the best thing for us moving forward is experience.”
Senior Natasa Siljkovic of Serbia, who just wrapped up her three-year career as a middle blocker for USC’s indoor team, played her first-ever match of competitive volleyball on the sand Sunday.
“For me, this is a whole new experience and a whole different game, but I am really excited to be a part of this team,” Siljkovic said.
USC will look to gain more experience on the beach circuit as it participates in another three-team dual against CSU Bakersfield and Grand Canyon University at Merle Norman Stadium on Thursday, March 14. First serve is set for 1 p.m.