TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In each of its five years of existence, the Florida State beach volleyball team has played for a national championship.And in each of those years, the Seminoles have fallen just short.So, as they prepare for their latest run to a ring, the Seminoles are no doubt hoping that things will be different.And, at least in one way, they already are.For the first time, beach volleyball is recognized as an official NCAA sport.
Which means that, for the first time, one school will win an NCAA beach volleyball championship. (The American Volleyball Coaches Association awarded a championship from 2011-15.)
The top-seeded Seminoles play Stetson Friday at 10 a.m. in Gulf Shores, Ala. All matches will be streamed on NCAA.com, with afternoon matches on Friday and Saturday televised on TruTV. TNT will show the championship match on Sunday at 1 p.m.
“We’re a part of history now,” said coach Brooke Niles, who has guided FSU to a 29-1 record in her first year at the helm. “So hopefully we can win and take the championship.”
As the No. 1 seed in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament, the Seminoles have plenty of reason to feel confident.
Not only have they not lost in more than a month, but they’ve already faced four of their seven potential opponents and own a 5-1 record against them.
USC, Pepperdine, UCLA, Hawaii, Arizona and Georgia State round out the field. FSU beat USC, UCLA and Georgia State earlier this season, and its lone loss came to Hawaii.
“We wanted to play every team we thought could potentially make it to Gulf Shores at the beginning of the season,” Niles said. “Just so we could kind of test ourselves against them and challenge our starters.”
Safe to say they met that challenge.
FSU spent the entire season ranked no worse than No. 3 in the AVCA poll and posted 16 victories against top-10 opponents.
But regular season success has become commonplace for this program.
After years of coming close, the Seminoles say they’re ready to take the next step.
“Now that it’s NCAA official, everyone feels like they’re taking it more seriously,” senior Julie Brown said. “Not that we haven’t in the past, but … it kind of feels more real this year, for sure.”
And for the seniors, there’s more urgency, too.
“Every year, you look up to the seniors and you’re like, ‘Man it’s their last chance to win a national championship,’” senior Nina Pelliterri said. “Now that it’s my turn as a senior, I know what that feels like, and it gives me that much more motivation to fight and take home the title.”
FSU has five seniors on the roster, including one fifth-year senior in Jace Pardon, who has been with the program since birth.
After watching the program – and, for that matter, the sport – grow out of its infancy, the Seminoles’ seniors are hoping for one last highlight before calling it a career.
“It would be the cherry on top of an awesome four years here,” Brown said. “But more than that, (to win) the first ever NCAA beach volleyball championship, it would be incredible.”