Cardinal and Gold alumni match unites past with present

The USC women’s beach volleyball team kicked off the season with the Cardinal and Gold alumni match at Merle Norman Stadium on Thursday.

Before the event started, a kick-off party was organized with donors and supporters.

Current athletes then paired up with alumni to play single-set matches to 21 points, giving the chance to young athletes to play each other in a generational clash.

Head coach Anna Collier talked about the excitement of having alumni coming back to play on the sand.

“It is so fun,” Collier said. “I’ve known all these players because I’ve played here. It’s so much fun because they’re competitive. You can see them out here going, ‘I’m going to win, I’m going to beat these girls,’ … But it’s really fun because It brings all the Trojan family back together.’”

Together with the fun, the athletes had the opportunity to receive advice from experienced players.

“It’s pretty amazing to see how far everybody has come after leaving here,” junior Nicolette Martin said. “I think it’s just an amazing experience to play with these players that are just so much more experienced than us, and we can learn a lot from them.”

Amongst the recent graduates, Meg Norton played three matches on Thursday.

“It feels good to be back,” she said. “It’s pretty fun trying to get the kinks out and playing with all the old girls, but it definitely feels like I haven’t played volleyball in a couple of months.”

She was part of the 2015 squad who conquered the national title with a 28-0 undefeated season, and Norton believes this year’s team — ranked No. 1 entering the season — is primed for a strong campaign.

“I think that they look really really strong this year,” Norton said. “They’re returning a lot of the girls and I know the girls who are returning have improved. I’m excited to see what they do in the season.”

Senior Alexa Strange played her last alumni mixer as student-athlete. In her last season, she will partner with junior Sophie Bukovec. 

“I think it’s starting to resonate with me that this is the last season, and my last time getting to compete with USC on my uniform,” Strange said. “It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling, but I realize I need to seize the moment and just enjoy while I’m here.”

Part of the Trojan family are also the 2012 Olympics silver medalists Jennifer Kessy and April Ross. They were not able to participate this year, as they are in Brazil to compete for a spot at the Games in Rio. They will play at the Rio Open (FIVB Grand Slam) starting on March 8th. Ross is partnering with 3-time gold medalist Kerri Walsh, while Jennifer Kessy is playing alongside Emily Day.

“They left yesterday for Brazil,” Collier said. “April sent me a really nice email saying, ‘Sorry, I won’t make it this year,’ and so did Jen, but we’ll see them next year for sure.”