GULF SHORES, Ala. – The Florida State Beach Volleyball team (31-2) suffered just its second loss of the season and first of the 2016 NCAA Beach Volleyball Championships falling to second-seeded Southern California (33-2), 3-1, on Saturday in the winner’s bracket semifinals on Gulf Shores Beach. The loss snapped FSU’s school-record 17-match win streak and sends the Seminoles to an elimination match showdown against UCLA on Sunday morning at 10:30 am CT.
The winner will advance to the national championship final against Southern Cal at 1:00 pm CT. The match will air live on TBS.
“I felt like we played hard and aggressive, but we missed way too many serves,” said Florida State head coach Brooke Niles. “Overall, we battled but they played great. Now we have to rest and prepare ourselves. Our girls played really hard, there’s obviously some things we can work on, but we will be ready to compete tomorrow.”
Florida State’s lone point of the match came on court three as Vanessa Freire and Sierra Sanchez defeated USC’s Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler in straight sets, 21-19, 24-22.
“They’ve been coming up huge all year,” said Niles on the play of Freire and Sanchez. “It’s just their character. We’ve been really able to put a lot of trust in them winning at that spot. There are a lot of schools with strong three seeds, so they were able to get us a win which was nice for us today.”
For the third time in as many matches in the NCAA Championship, the Seminoles got off to a slow start dropping the first set in four of the five courts. And unlike the first two matches on Friday, Florida State could not recover against the Women of Troy.
“They are probably one of the best teams out here,” said Sanchez. “Getting the opportunity to play them in the winner’s bracket and then taking everything that we saw today with ourselves and with them and what we can improve for tomorrow in the semis is huge.
USC grabbed a 1-0 lead with a straight set victory on court five as Jo Kremer and Zoe Nightingale defeated Nikki Esposito and Hailey Luke, 21-14, 24-22. The Seminoles tied the dual at 1-1 thanks to Freire and Sanchez’s straight set win on court three. But the Women of Troy picked up two more straight set victories on courts four and the clincher on one to secure the 3-1 victory.
On court four, USC’s Abril Bustamante and Jenna Belton downed FSU’s Katie Horton and Annie Montgomery, 21-17, 21-14, to go up 2-1. After dropping set one 21-14, Julie Brown and Jace Pardon trailed 20-15 in the second before making a valiant come back. The Seminole duo registered four straight points to cut the deficit to 20-19, but Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes stood strong on the next Seminole serve to close out the set and the match.
The match on court two was suspended in the second set with Victoria Paranagua and Kristina Pellitteri leading 18-17 and looking to force a third set after dropping the first 21-15.
“You want to let it go, you don’t want to linger on your losses,” said Sanchez. “But at the same time we are going to use this; we are going to use this as motivation to light a fire under our butts to get us motivated for tomorrow.”
Florida State and UCLA will meet for the third time on neutral sand Sunday morning with the Seminoles winning the two prior regular season matches. FSU defeated UCLA 3-2 in Santa Monica back on March 10 and then 4-1 on March 25 in DeLand.
Stay tuned to Seminoles.com for more coverage of the Garnet & Gold in Gulf Shores at the inaugural 2016 NCAA Beach Volleyball Championships. As always, fans can also follow the Noles on Twitter (FSU_BeachVB) and on Instagram (FSUBeachVolleyball) for continued updates on team.
Match 33 – Gulf Shores, Ala. – NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship
No. 2 Southern Cal d. No. 1 Florida State, 3-1
Court 1: Sara Hughes/Kelly Claes, USC d. Julie Brown/Jace Pardon, FSU – 21-14, 21-19
Court 2: Kristina Pellitteri/Victoria Paranagua, FSU vs. Alexa Strange/Sophie Bukovec, USC – (DNF) 15-21, 18-17
Court 3: Vanessa Freire/Sierra Sanchez, FSU d. Nicolette Martin/Allie Wheeler, USC – 21-19, 24-22
Court 4: Abril Bustamante/Jenna Belton, USC d. Katie Horton/Annie Montgomery, FSU – 21-17, 21-14
Court 5: Jo Kremer/Zoe Nightingale, USC d. Nikki Esposito/Hailey Luke, FSU – 21-14, 24-22
Order of Finish: 5, 3, 4, *1, 2 (DNF)
*clinched dual win