Across enemy lines, down the interstate

Beach volleyball has an unlikely and inseparable duo in Radell and Kriz.

Graduate Maddi Kriz was inspired by former teammate Sunny Villapando to cap off her collegiate career with the Trojans after graduating from Stanford. She then convinced her friend graduate Ainsley Radell to share her aspirations. (Drake Lee / USC Athletics)

Ainsley Radell was ready to leave volleyball behind. 

“I was supposed to move to Boston in July for a job,” said the graduate student in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “But then honestly, [graduate student] Madi [Kriz] convinced me to enter the transfer portal and explore my options, and ultimately I chose here and Madi [Kriz] was a big part of me coming here.”

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Her friend and fellow graduate transfer Madi Kriz nodded and smiled from her seat a few feet away. It’s only a minute or so into the interview, and it’s already clear these beach volleyball teammates are on the same wavelength.  

It’s a cool moment anytime old friends join forces at the same school, especially if they’re wearing Cardinal and Gold. USC has seen its share of dynamic duos who go way back, from Dillon Klein and Ryan Sprague on the men’s volleyball team, who both went to Loyola High School of Los Angeles and have played together since middle school, to Caleb and Mario Williams, who both transferred to USC from Oklahoma, to Radell and Kriz’s teammates, twin sisters Audrey and Nicole Nourse, who are close as close gets. 

But what makes Radell and Kriz’s friendship especially remarkable is that it breaks all the conventions of the formation of friendship: There isn’t a common high school, college or set of DNA connecting them. 

The only real connection they have is the sport they both love: beach volleyball.

Their story of friendship begins in high school, which they attended half the country away from each other. Radell lived in Moraga, California, playing volleyball at Monte Vista High School, while Kriz was making a name for herself at Round Rock Westwood High School in Austin, Texas. 

They both found beach volleyball through family. Radell’s father grew up in San Diego and loved playing; at his encouragement, she gave it a shot and ended up enjoying it immensely. 

“I love the sport; I feel like it’s a good balance between being really athletic and talented, but also, I love the partner aspect and communication,” Radell said. “It’s a really good team building exercise all the time when you’re playing … hyping your partner up when they’re in a rut and vice versa. That’s a big part of the game that isn’t talked about a lot.” 

On the other hand, Kriz’s relationship with her younger sister Alex has always been intertwined with her love for beach volleyball. Alex is a freshman on the UC Davis beach volleyball team, and her work to earn that spot has been inspiring to her elder sister. 

“She is one of the hardest workers in beach [volleyball],” Kriz said. “She’s a grinder; she motivates me every day. She’s just such a huge role model to me, even though she’s my little sister.” 


Sharing what their relationship meant to her brought Madi a lot of emotion. 

“She’s a huge part of my love for the game, and definitely the game has brought us super close to one another,” Madi said. “I’m really, really grateful … I get emotional talking about her.” 

So Radell and Kriz found an initial love for volleyball through someone in very close proximity. But while that was happening, the track was being laid for the two to find a new level of appreciation for the game through one another, despite little connecting the two of them beyond the game. 

In high school, while they were still living 1,750 miles apart, Radell’s coach arranged for her to play with Kriz at a tournament in Kriz’s home state of Texas. The two made an instant connection. 

“I don’t even really remember how we did in the tournament, but I remember we became really good friends,” Radell said. “In high school, we played together a lot in tournaments, I would say like once every two months or so, and then we just started visiting each other not even playing, like I went to her house once in Texas, and we’ve been to music festivals together.” 

The two maintained a strong friendship even as their volleyball careers remained separate. When it came time to pick a college, the two chose rival schools: UC Berkeley for Radell and Stanford for Kriz. 

This would be the end for many friendships, as school pride rages and the hatred of historic rivalries takes hold of two once-friends. 

But for Kriz and Radell, being at rival schools only made their friendship stronger. 

“We’d always be super competitive against each other, but it was like bantering through the net,” Radell said. “Madi [Kriz] would hit a good shot, and I’d be like, ‘Really Madi?’”


Kriz picked the story up right where Radell left off. 

“Because we know each other’s tendencies but then we’d still get beat by each other’s tendencies, so we’d be like, ‘Aw, I knew that!’” Kriz said. 

Maintaining a long-distance friendship off the court, especially outside your university, as a student-athlete is difficult. So Kriz and Radell just did it on the court. Sometimes teams that are not actively playing are required to serve as line judges at tournaments, and when Kriz was assigned to Radell’s game once, they even used that as an opportunity to chat. 

“I have one memory of reffing your game actually,” Kriz said to Radell, and the two shared a laugh. “We were having a whole, full-on conversation about life while she was playing I think one of my teammates or playing somebody else.”

But in addition to lore updates and laughs, Kriz and Radell’s time on the court involved immense amounts of personal success throughout their four-year careers as Northern California rivals. Radell became a three-time Pac-12 All-Tournament Team member and made All Pac-12 Second Team as a senior at Cal in 2023. Not to be outdone, Kriz made All Pac-12 First Team and American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America Second Team in 2023. Both women finished the 2023 season at the top of their game and the top of the beach volleyball world. 

But their future as volleyball players had varying levels of certainty. Radell was preparing to leave the sport behind, while Kriz was set not only on playing another year, but playing it at USC. 

That eagerness to join Head Coach Dain Blanton’s squad came from a connection with Sunny Villipando, a fellow member of the Trojan family who had done four years at Stanford and then finished out her graduate year at USC. 

“[Villipando] was two years older than me, but when she was here I would come down and visit her all the time,” Kriz said. “I already knew when I entered the portal, this is where I wanted to come. I loved the coaching staff, I loved the community.” 

Luckily, the admiration was mutual, as Blanton knew he wanted to make a recruiting push for Radell and Kriz that they couldn’t refuse. 

“They were just what I thought and more in terms of their energy, their leadership [and] their professionalism,” Blanton said. 

So he flipped Kriz, who turned from the No. 1 pair leader of one of USC’s most bitter rivals to one of their biggest assets on the No. 3 pair at USC. Then, Kriz got to work on convincing Radell to come along for the ride. 

When Radell’s commitment became a reality, their friendship had officially played a massive part in the formation of USC’s roster this season. But even the most dedicated USC beach volleyball fan probably wouldn’t know about the invisible string binding Kriz and Radell together if they didn’t know the two women personally off the court.

On the court, they actually don’t play together. Kriz has mostly been paired up with another graduate student, Grace Seits from LSU. Seits wears jersey number 7 while Kriz wears 11, and it turns out the two’s playstyles go together as well as a slurpee and a summer day. 

“They just seem to really get along and also compliment each other really well on the court,” Blanton said. “It’s almost like I would think Kriz and Grace Seits were long friends.” 

Radell, on the other hand, has played with several different partners as Blanton tries to maximize her skill set. 

“She functions a lot better with a better setter and a really good defender,” Blanton said. “She’s like a workhorse, she’s a full-time blocker, she loves to be at the net, she has a tough serve and then has to run all the way to the net. She has a huge workload, and so you want her with someone who has good ball control, who can play great defense, and can transition and put the ball away.” 

However, despite being mostly relegated to cheering each other on when the other is on the court, the two are inseparable off of it. The two enjoy spending time together regardless of the activity. 

“Honestly, we work so hard at practice, a lot of the time we’ll get home and just like, rot on the couch and hang out for hours on end,” Radell said. “We could be talking about absolutely nothing and be laughing our butts off.” 

“We’ll rank things,” Kriz added between laughs. “I don’t even know how to describe it, like random things. Like ‘Would you rather?’ but a little more personal to our lives.” 

Their ability to have fun regardless of the situation has also been an asset to the team’s morale and chemistry. 

“They both like to have a lot of fun and can goof off around and you kind of need to keep it light at certain times,” Blanton said. 

All in all, their skills and the power of their friendship make them integral pieces to a team that is in contention for a fourth-straight national title. 

This team is not the 37-1 2022 squad, which Blanton called the “greatest team ever assembled,” but does have a certain level of depth that makes the team special. 

“It’s a very deep team, one of the deeper teams I’ve ever seen,” Blanton said. “There’s like 15, 16 players who can play.” 

Kriz and Radell are huge pieces of that depth and huge reasons why the currently No.1-ranked Trojans feel equipped to chase a fourth-straight title.

Opponents can scout and prepare for the Trojans all they want, but they have nothing on the power of friendship.

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