Stetson departed for Gulf Shores, Ala. Thursday and the 2014 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships. One of just six teams remaining, the Hatters will join Southern Cal, Pepperdine, Florida State, Hawaii, and Florida International in the quest for a national title.
“It is exciting, but in the same regard it is kind of just like every other day,” Stetson head coach Kristina Hernandez said during one the team’s practices earlier this week. “We want to make sure we are focusing on getting better and really working on some things I think we are going to see against different opponents and some different pairs.”
Stetson (18-4), champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference, will open the double-elimination Team Championship against Florida State (16-1) at 11 a.m. on Friday. The Hatters and Seminoles will be meeting head-to-head in dual match for the first time this season. However, a few pairs from the two schools squared off in the Fiesta on Siesta Key in mid-April, including Stetson’s top pair of Kaylee Anderson and Kaley Melville.
“We know what to expect and we can prepare ourselves a little better going into the match,” Anderson said about facing FSU. “As a team, we have all kind of talked about what we are going to go up against and having the right mindset that any given team can be defeated on any given day.”
Junior Maren Rygh is one several team members that has been with the program since its launch in 2011-12, and she is thrilled to see the team take such a huge step forward.
“It is super exciting that we get to be one of the six teams in the nation that play in the national tournament,” Rygh said. “A lot of the girls know we worked for the conference championship title for the last year, but for a lot of us, we have worked hard for the last three years. It has been a journey, and I am so excited that we get a chance to go even further at this point.”
In addition to the Team Championship, which will crown a winner on Saturday, the tournament will feature a 16-team Pairs Championship to determine the top pair in country. Anderson and Melville are guaranteed one spot in the single-elimination tournament, while Stetson’s No. 2 seed of Savannah Byl and Catherine Coston could potentially earn a berth as well.
"As of now, my mind is focused on the team competition," Anderson said. “Overall, I am so excited for everyone, and that coming in as a freshman I get to experience this with them.”
In order for the Hatters to advance to a second-round contest against Pepperdine, Stetson will need a strong showing from its lower seeds. The Hatters’ No. 4 and No. 5 pairings have combined for a 36-8 record this season, including a 9-1 mark in the A-Sun Championship.
“I am really confident with our lower seeds,” Hernandez said. “I think they have been really strong for us, especially against tougher opponents. I feel confident going in there with all the pairings, as long as we can focus on what we are doing, not get frustrated and really stick to what has been working well for us. We just have to get out there and compete.”
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