GULF SHORES, Ala. – The Florida State Beach Volleyball team (32-3) came up just short in its quest for the program’s first national title falling to Southern Cal (34-2) 3-0 in the championship final on Sunday, May 8 on Gulf Shores Beach. The Seminoles finished the 2016 campaign with a school-record 32 wins while claiming its first CCSA Conference Championship in its first official season as an NCAA Championship sport.
“It’s been great for us, it’s been great for the school,” Florida State head coach Brooke Niles said on her team’s run to the national finals. “We were excited to get here but it wasn’t our end goal, we wanted to win it. We played hard, but they were just more aggressive and they played better than us.”
FSU earned a trip to the finals after defeating fourth-seeded UCLA, 3-1, earlier in the day. The Seminoles got off to a great start against the Bruins on court five as Nikki Esposito and Macy Jerger earned a straight set victory over the Bruins’ Julie Consani and Reily Buechler, 21-16, 21-15, to give the Garnet & Gold a 1-0 advantage.
The lead was short lived as UCLA came right back with a straight set victory on court two as Ivey Schmitt and Kamila Tan defeated Victoria Paranagua and Kristina Pellitteri, 21-13, 21-14.
But the Seminoles proved to be too tough down the stretch thanks to victories on courts one and three. Jace Pardon and Julie Brown went back and forth with UCLA’s Megan and Nicole McNamara but found the edge late in both sets to take court one in straight sets, 21-19, 24-22. After dropping set one 21-19, Vanessa Freire and Sierra Sanchez evened the match at a set apiece with a 21-15 victory in set two against Elise Zappia and Izzy Carey. The two teams exchanged points early in the third set but a 3-0 run by Florida State, after trailing 4-3, gave the Noles the lead for good en route to a 15-11 victory and the match clincher.
“They really played well today,” said Niles on the team’s performance against UCLA. “It was huge that our five spot, with Macy Jerger coming in after an injury (to Hailey Luke), played so well; she was so solid the entire time. She just relished in this environment, so that was really big for us.
“UCLA has played us tough every single time we played them and they switched their line-up since the last time (we faced them) so it was a new match-ups for us. We knew it would be a tough match.”
Annie Montgomery and Katie Horton were tied with UCLA’s Zana Muno and Jessyka Ngauamo at one set apiece on court four when play was halted in the third with the Bruins leading 5-3.
In the finals, the Women of Troy ran out to an early 2-0 lead after the first session winning on courts three and five. Esposito and Jerger could not replicate their performance from earlier in the day against the Bruins falling in straight sets to USC’s Jo Kremer and Zoe Nightingale 21-14, 21-12.
Freire and Sanchez dropped a hard fought three setter to the Women of Troy’s Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler marking the first three-set match the Seminole duo dropped in eight contests this year. After falling 23-21 in the first set and trailing 16-11 in the second, the Seminole duo used a 6-0 run to capture the lead at 17-16. Freire and Sanchez would win four of the next six points to force a third and decisive set. In the third, Martin and Wheeler ran out to a 6-3 lead before Freire and Sanchez drew even with three straight points. The two teams continued to exchange points at 9-9 before USC closed the match on a 6-1 run to win the set 15-10 giving the Women of Troy a 2-0 lead.
The second session was all Southern Cal as the Women of Troy won the first sets on courts one, two and four. USC clinched the match on court one as Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes defeated Brown and Pardon 21-15, 21-10 to capture the first NCAA Beach Volleyball national title.
Florida State finished the national tournament with a 3-2 record in Gulf Shores. The Seminoles pulled off wins over two west coast teams (Hawaii & UCLA), while earning a win against Stetson.
FSU’s senior class, which included Julie Brown, Blyss Harkness, Kayla Joyce, Annie Montgomery, Jace Pardon, Kristina Pellitteri and Katherine Plessy, finished their Seminole careers with 81 dual-match victories. The seniors earned two national runner-up finishes (AVCA in 2014 & NCAA in 2016) and two other top three finishes (2012 & 2013).
“The beach volleyball world has to look out for Florida State,” added Niles on the future of FSU’s beach volleyball program. “Recruits want to come here and we want to coach them to be the best players that they can be. It’s huge for us and it puts east coast beach volleyball on the map.”
Match 34 – Gulf Shores, Ala. – NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship
No. 1 Florida State d. No. 4 UCLA, 3-1
Court 1: Julie Brown/Jace Pardon, FSU d. Megan McNamara/Nicole McNamara, UCLA – 21-19, 24-22
Court 2: Ivey Schmitt/Kamila Tan, UCLA d. Kristina Pellitteri/Victoria Paranagua, FSU – 21-13, 21-15
Court 3: Vanessa Freire/Sierra Sanchez, FSU d. Elise Zappia/Izzy Carey, UCLA – 19-21, 21-15, 15-11
Court 4: Katie Horton/Annie Montgomery, FSU vs. Zana Muno/Jessyka Ngauamo, UCLA – (DNF) 21-17, 17-21, 3-5
Court 5: Nikki Esposito/Macy Jerger, FSU d. Julie Consani/Reily Buechler, UCLA – 21-16, 21-15
Order of Finish: 5, 2, 1, *3, 4 (DNF)
*clinched dual win
Match 35 – Gulf Shores, Ala. – NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship
No. 2 Southern Cal d. No. 1 Florida State, 3-0
Court 1: Sara Hughes/Kelly Claes, USC d. Julie Brown/Jace Pardon, FSU – 21-15, 21-10
Court 2: Kristina Pellitteri/Victoria Paranagua, FSU vs. Alexa Strange/Sophie Bukovec, USC – (DNF) 13-21, 17-16
Court 3: Nicolette Martin/Allie Wheeler, USC d. Vanessa Freire/Sierra Sanchez, FSU – 23-21, 18-21, 15-10
Court 4: Katie Horton/Annie Montgomery, FSU vs. Abril Bustamante/Jenna Belton, USC – (DNF) 13-21, 16-17
Court 5: Jo Kremer/Zoe Nightingale, USC d. Nikki Esposito/Macy Jerger, FSU – 21-14, 21-12
Order of Finish: 5, 3, *1, 2 & 4 (DNF)
*clinched dual win