Top-Seeded USC Set for AVCA National Championships

    USC sand volleyball freshman Nicolette Martin

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    April 29, 2014

    2014 AVCA National Championships
    Gulf Shores, Ala.
    Friday-Sunday, May 2-4

    Match #23
    [1] USC (22-1) vs. [4] Hawaii (18-3) or [5] FIU (14-2)
    Friday, May 2 - Noon CT

    Pairs Championship
    Sunday, May 4 - 9 a.m. CT

    LOS ANGELES - The top-ranked USC women’s sand volleyball team (22-1) heads to the 2014 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship as the top seed this week. The Women of Troy are on a 21-match winning streak and hope to capture the program’s first team title in Gulf Shores, Ala., May 2-4.

    The AVCA team tournament is a double-elimination with sudden death final four. USC receives a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed and will await the winner of a match between fourth-seeded Hawaii (18-3) and No. 5 Florida International (14-2). The Trojans and the advancing team will play at noon CT on Friday, May 2. A win puts the Women of Troy in the 11 a.m. semifinal on Saturday, May 3. With a loss, the Trojans face the loser of a match between No. 3 Florida State (16-1) and No. 6 Stetson (18-4) in a loser’s match. The winner of that match will receive a spot in the semifinals. The championship match is set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 3.

    Following the team championship, a pairs’ tournament will be played on Sunday, May 4. Senior Kirby Burnham represents one half of the defending champion pair. She won the title in 2013 with fellow USC All-American Stevi Robinson.

    Of the Trojans’ 22 victories, 17 have been by clean 5-0 sweeps. In fact, the Trojans have shut out their opponent in 13 of their last 14 dual matches. USC’s top two pairs have each broken through with more than 30 wins this season. At the top court, Burnham and freshman Sara Hughes lead the pack with a 36-3 mark and have won their last 28 consecutive matches. The Trojans’ resident court two tandem of sophomore Alexa Strange and freshman Kelly Claes are 31-5 on the year. One of their losses was to Burnham and Hughes.

    At the Trojans’ third court, its senior tandem of Sam Hirschmann and Natasa Siljkovic has posted an 18-4 mark with a 23-9 overall record. Juniors Eve Ettinger and Bria Russ hold court at the No. 4 position and are the third duo on the squad with at least 25 wins. They are 25-6 on the year with an 18-1 record at court four. At No. 5, USC’s freshman combo of Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler is 14-1 with a 21-5 overall mark.

    AVCA CHAMPIONSHIPS: USC will hold the top seed in the 2014 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships set to take place in Gulf Shores, Ala., May 2-4. The Women of Troy get a first-round bye and face the winner of a match between fourth-seeded Hawaii (18-3) and fifth-seeded Florida International (14-2) on Friday, May 2, at noon CT. It is the Trojans’ second straight team bid to the championships. In the inaugural sand volleyball championships, USC sent two pairs to the individual tournament. In 2013, the Women of Troy earned their first team entry into the event as the fourth seed and finished as a semifinalist. Third-seeded Florida State (16-1) and sixth-seeded Stetson (18-4) will play in the first round with the winner advancing to meet second-seeded Pepperdine (15-1) at 1 p.m. CT on May 2. Semifinals are set for 11 a.m. and noon CT on May 3 with the championship match to be played at 3:30 p.m., and taped for broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

    BEACH STREAKERS: USC’s 21-match dual winning streak is the program’s longest. The longest in the history of the sport is 34 straight and belongs to Pepperdine, which went 14-0 in its inaugural season (2012) and then went 20-0 before falling in the 2013 championship match. The Trojans’ tandem of Kirby Burnham and Sara Hughes own a 28-match winning streak which is the longest in program history. Kelly Claes and Alexa Strange had a streak of 17 straight matches that spanned from March 27 through April 20 and was snapped only by Burnham and Hughes. Eve Ettinger and Bria Russ had a 10-match streak from March 25 through April 13.

    TRACK THE TROJANS: Fans of the Women of Troy can follow @USCSandVBall on Twitter for score updates during home matches and select road matches. The Trojans are also active on Instagram (USCSandVBall) and on Facebook (USCSandVBall).

    LAST TIME OUT: USC wrapped up its regular season with a pair of 5-0 victories in the desert over first-year programs Arizona and Boise State in Tucson, Ariz. It was the Trojans’ second win over the Wildcats after beating them, 4-1, in Hawaii earlier this season. At the top court, Kirby Burnham and Sara Hughes extended their program-record winning streak to 28 consecutive matches.

    OPPONENT SERIES RECORDS: USC has met Hawaii four times and owns a 4-0 record against the Rainbow Wahine. A meeting with Florida International would be the Trojans’ first in program history. Against the other side of the bracket, USC defeated Stetson in their only meeting in 2012, but is 1-2 in three meetings with Florida State and is 1-6 all-time against second-seeded Pepperdine including a split series this year.

    COMBO NO. 21: The Women of Troy have played 21 different pairings this season. Trojan tandems have produced a 102-12 mark in duals with a 162-38 record overall. USC’s most successful pair is Kirby Burnham and Sara Hughes, which holds a 36-3 record overall with a 19-3 mark in duals at the top court.

    FIVE ON IT: USC has experienced the most success in dual matches at court five where pairs have racked up a 21-1 record in 23 duals (Arizona forfeited the court in one of its duals). The Trojans’ resident duo at court five is the combo of freshmen Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler who have put together a 14-1 record there.

    POLL POSITION: The Women of Troy opened the season ranked No. 2 behind just Pepperdine. Following a 4-1 win over the Waves on March 25, USC moved up to the No. 1 spot for the first time in program history, a ranking it has held for each of the last five weeks. In 2013, USC started the season ranked third and finished in fourth.

    TOURNAMENT WINNERS: The USC tandem of Kirby Burnham and Sara Hughes has won four individual tournaments this season. The duo went 4-0 and defeated three pairs from Florida State en route to claiming the USC Tournament title on March 15. They then went 6-0 to win the Jack in the Box Rainbow Wahine Spring Challenge in Honolulu, Hawaii on March 22. Burnham and Hughes claimed the Gold Bracket title at the USAV Beach Collegiate Challenge in Hermosa Beach on April 13 and then won the inaugural Pac-12 Invitational title with four wins on April 20. The two hold a 17-0 mark in tournaments as a pair. The Trojans’ team of Kelly Claes and Alexa Strange won the Silver Bracket at the USAV Collegiate Challenge and are 11-3 in pairs tourneys.

    TROJANS IN TV LAND: Each of USC’s home matches this season were webcast on the Pac-12 Networks portal page with former Northeastern player and Winthrop assistant coach Paul Duchesne calling the action. The Pac-12 Networks carried duals on March 27 and April 3 to a live national audience with Anne Marie Anderson and Holly McPeak on the call. The Trojans appeared in the first-ever live broadcast of a women’s collegiate dual match on Thursday, March 27, when USC faced Cal State Northridge.

    ALL-AMERICAN NATIONAL CHAMPIONS: Senior Kirby Burnham teamed with Stevi Robinson to produce a 25-4 record as a pair in 2013. The tandem won their last eight consecutive matches including four at the AVCA pairs championships on May 5, 2013, to claim USC’s first-ever individual championship in sand volleyball. They were each later named the first-ever sand volleyball All-Americans in USC history.

    A HEART FOR ART: Junior Alexa Stonish is a fine arts major at USC’s famed Roski School of Art and Design. She emphasizes and is an enthusiast in photography. Some of Stonish’s work has been featured in the Artletics on-campus exhibit that displays the works of USC student-athletes.

    IN HER BLOOD: Freshman Sevana Dvorak comes from some esteemed volleyball bloodlines. Her father, Rudy Dvorak, was an All-American setter at USC in 1986 and led the Trojans to the 1985 and 1986 NCAA Final Four as an all-tournament selection each year. He went on later to have a successful pro beach career. Sevena’s uncle Dusty Dvorak was a two-time All-American setter at USC (1979-80) who led Troy to the 1977 and 1980 NCAA titles before he guided the U.S. to a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics. He is regarded as America’s greatest men’s volleyball setter and is a member of the USAV and USC Athletics Hall of Fames. Her aunt Deidra Dvorak played at Stanford and in Europe, while another uncle Drake Dvorak played at San Diego State.

    CHILDREN OF THE CORN: USC’s sophomore class of Alexa Strange and Lauren Sieckmann were each Nebraska Cornhuskers previously. Strange is a Southern California native (San Clemente, Calif.) and joins the Women of Troy following a successful spring at Nebraska where she was part of the No. 1 pair with Kelsey Robinson. Strange has extensive international sand experience and was also a member of the Cornhuskers’ indoor volleyball team. Sieckmann, who is from Omaha, Neb., committed to the Cornhuskers as one of the top players in the nation and left high school early to participate in spring drills with the team in 2012. By the spring of 2013, she had played a fall of indoor volleyball at NCAA DII Wayne State College, and was playing sand volleyball exclusively at Pepperdine. Sieckmann enrolled at USC in the fall of 2013 and must sit out the 2013-14 season per NCAA transfer rules.

    CONVERSION FACTORS: The Women of Troy have benefitted from the conversion of several former indoor volleyball stars. Natasa Siljkovic completed her indoor career as a middle blocker in the fall of 2012 and stepped foot onto a sand court for the first time in 2013. She played at courts three, four, and five and produced 15 wins for the Trojans. As a graduate student, Siljkovic is expected to contribute mightily from court three this season. Junior Bria Russ was a mainstay at USC’s top two courts in 2013, her first season on the sand after she appeared in 26 matches for the USC indoor team as a freshman. All-American Kirby Burnham, Sam Hirschmann, and Eve Ettinger are each also former member’s of USC’s indoor squad. Graduate Mary Buckingham lettered for California’s indoor team in 2009.

    PROM DATE: Freshman Kelly Claes should be shopping for prom dresses. Instead, she will play a key role in the Trojans’ 2014 season. Claes completed high school graduation requirements a semester early and left El Dorado HS to join the Women of Troy. She was named to the Volleyball Magazine Girls Fab 50 and is the only player on the list that will play sand volleyball exclusively at the collegiate level. With her arrival, the Trojans signed the top sand volleyball recruit in consecutive years. USC signed top sand recruit Sara Hughes in 2013.

    STAFF INFECTION: With the addition three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Misty May-Treanor, the Trojans boast one of the most broadly experienced coaching staffs in the nation. May-Treanor formerly was an assistant coach at her alma mater Long Beach State before she joined one of her mentors Anna Collier on the Trojan staff. Fuller is a former Virginia Tech player who also coaches a pro beach pair. Each assistant brings great depth to the Trojans’ ability to run drills and develop skills in addition to some valuable experience on the international level.

    2013 RECRUITING CLASS: The Trojans signed one of the top recruiting classes in the country for the 2013-14 season. Regarded as one of the top indoor setters in the nation, Sara Hughes (Mater Dei HS/Santa Ana, Calif.) announced she would focus solely on sand volleyball making her the top sand volleyball recruit in the nation. Hughes was a Fab 50 selection and claimed a plethora of individual accolades on the indoor court. She also arrives at USC with a wealth of experience on the beach as winner of tournaments and championships from 2011-13. Allie Wheeler (Archbishop Mitty HS/San Jose, Calif.) led her school to a 34-0 mark and the 2012 CIF Central Coast championship as a senior and was a member of the USAV High Performance Beach U19 program.

    LAST SEASON: USC went 16-8 in its second year. All eight of the Trojans losses were to one of three teams: Florida State once, Pepperdine three times, and Long Beach State four times. Four of USC’s losses were by a 3-2 margin and came down to the final points in the third set of the deciding pairs matchup. The Trojans finished with a 7-3 mark at home in the newly opened Merle Norman Stadium and were given their first team bid to the AVCA championships. USC defeated North Florida in the opening round but lost to Pepperdine in the next matchup. The Trojans came back to defeat Louisiana-Monroe to reach the national semifinals before falling to national champion Long Beach State, 3-2, in the semifinal match. Kirby Burnham and Stevi Robinson completed an eight-match winning streak to claim the pairs championship and became USC’s first-ever sand volleyball All-Americans.

    USC ALUMS ON THE BEACH: USC women’s volleyball players have shined on the pro beach world circuit, both internationally and domestically. Some of the top Women of Troy stars have included 2012 London Olympic silver medalists April Ross and Jennifer Kessy (winners of 24 tournaments, including the 2009 FIVB World Championship); Tracy Lindquist (12-year pro); Geena Urango, Jessica Gysin, and Keao Burdine (young beach stars); Bibiana Candelas (indoor All-American who won the first-ever Collegiate Nationals Beach Championship in 2006); Paula Weishoff (an indoor Olympian and Volleyball Hall of Fame inductee); and Miki McFadden (indoor Olympian). The USC men also have a strong tradition including such pro tourney winners as Tim Hovland, Adam Johnson, Pat Powers, Steve Timmons, Steve Obradovich, and Ron Lang.