Beach volleyball hits the road to Florida

first_imgAfter dominating teams out on the West Coast, the USC beach volleyball team, the defending national champion, will test their luck out in South Beach, Florida, this weekend when they take part in the fourth annual Surf and Turf Classic hosted by Florida International University.The No. 2-ranked Women of Troy (11-2) will be making the cross-country trek to Miami, to play six teams in a span of just 28 hours, headlined by matches against No. 8-ranked Georgia State, No. 9-ranked Stetson and No. 10-ranked FIU.This busy slate of action isn’t new for head coach Anna Collier, who purposely fit the tournament into her schedule in order to give the team a sense of what it’s like to play in Alabama at the NCAA Championships.“The reason why I [scheduled] this is because Miami is similar to Gulf Shores’ wind, sand and weather,” Collier said. “It’s great preparation for NCAAs. It’s great competition, and it’s still early enough for us to see what we need to do to mentally and physically prepare for these types of games moving forward.”Starting off the tournament on Friday, USC will take on eighth-ranked Georgia State (14-2) at 12 p.m. EST. The Panthers have won seven duals in a row, while USC is riding its own seven-match winning streak. The Women of Troy will then tussle with South Carolina (13-5) at 3 p.m. ET, followed by a match against Tulane (10-6) at 5 p.m. EST. to close out the first day of action.On Saturday, USC will battle No. 9-ranked Stetson at 9 a.m. EST. The Hatters currently lead the nation in wins with a 16-4 record. Stetson is also the only team in the field that USC has faced before, with the Women of Troy winning all three prior meetings. USC will then face 10th-ranked host Florida International (5-6) at 12 p.m. ET. The final match of the tournament will be against Florida Atlantic (6-7) at 2 p.m. EST.Set to lead USC is the No. 1 pair of juniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, who have won 41 straight matches. The duo has only lost six sets during that streak and currently sit at a perfect 16-0 on the season. However, they might be facing their stiffest competition this weekend. Something will have to give when the two face off against Stetson, as the Hatters’ number one pair of Vendy Strakova and Sara Putt are also undefeated at 19-0 on the season, while Georgia State’s top pair of Sara Olivova and Jansen Button hold steady at 15-1 overall.Another USC pair that has played well as of late has been the No. 4 tandem of sophomore Jenna Belton and freshman Abril Bustamante. Both were recently named Pac-12 Pair of the Week, marking the third time that a USC pair has won the award in four weeks. In seven matches together, the underclassmen have gone 14-2 in sets.According to Belton, the two have grown steadily throughout the season thanks to hard work and trust.“Playing with Abril has been awesome,” Belton said. “We’ve improved a ton and made really great leaps together. We had a rough start, but ever since then, our record has improved, and it’s because our communication and dynamic on the court has gotten better.”Bustamante is the lone freshman in USC’s starting lineup, but has enjoyed the transition into the college game with Belton by her side.“It has definitely been something new, but I’m really enjoying it and loving the team,” Bustamante said. “It’s different than high school because there’s more hours to put in and a lot more to juggle, but it’s been so fun.”Collier also thinks her young guns were well-deserving of the recognition.“I’m happy for them,” Collier said. “In the beginning, they were struggling … A freshman and a sophomore? That’s young. This shows how much they’ve grown together. They’re playing better and more consistently. Abril and Jenna have really worked on their partnership, and they’re understanding what each other needs to win matches.”Despite the hectic month of March, Collier has been pleased with her team’s performance during this jam-packed midseason schedule and is looking forward to the opportunity to improve this weekend.“We’re playing well, but the biggest piece is that we’re competing much better,” Collier said. “I still think we haven’t seen our best volleyball yet, which is actually exciting because that gives us the chance to play our best volleyball going forward.”last_img read more

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