-COURTESY OF CRAIG THRELKELD, ATLANTIC SUN CONFERENCE MEDIA RELATIONS-
A-Sun's Historic Sand Volleyball Championship Begins Friday
MACON, Ga. - The Atlantic Sun Conference will make history April 20-22, as it conducts the first NCAA Division I sand volleyball conference championship at the Dolphin Beach Volleyball Courts on the campus of Jacksonville University.
Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Mercer University, the University of North Florida and Stetson University will compete for a Team Championship and five flighted Pairs Championships. The Team Championship will be held on Friday, April 20, and Saturday, April 21. Each of the five schools will field five doubles teams ranked in order. The schools will compete in dual matches in which the winner is the team capturing three of the five flights. Play will begin at 9 a.m. each day.
The five Pairs Championships will consist of 25 doubles teams seeded into a single elimination tournament on Sunday, April 22. Pairs will be seeded into flights determined by their results during the team championships. Sunday's matches will also begin at 9 a.m. The championship matches of the four top flights will be broadcast live on ASun.TV beginning at 11 a.m.
FGCU (4-3) will feature Kaitlin Holm and Holly Youngquist as its #1 pair, Karina Mambuca and Olivia Mesner as the #2 pair, Brooke Kohler and Brittany Muse as the #3 pair, Whitney Masters and Jill Hopper as the #4 pair and Gigi Meyer and Lindsey Childs as the #5 pair. The Eagles posted a record of 2-1 against A-Sun foe Stetson, and defeated Tulane and Florida Atlantic and lost to Florida State and Southern California in non-conference play.
Host Jacksonville (1-4) fields Kendall Courtney and Cari Whitmire as its #1 pair, Kathryn Kane and Sammie Strausbaugh as the #2 pair, Niatha Cullen and Nicole Teplitz as the #3 pair, Alison Loeppky and Chelsea as the #4 pair and Alyssa Robertson and Jenna Orner as the #5 pair. The Dolphins defeated Florida Atlantic and fell to A-Sun foes UNF and Stetson along with Hawaii. The Dolphins also claimed two A-Sun Sand Volleyball Pair of the Week honors, first with Courtney and Whitmire on April 4 and then Kane and Strausbaugh on April 18.
The Mercer Bears (1-6) will include Jamie Duffy and Cassie Roy as the #1 pair, Jenn Katona and Monica Sanchez as the #2 pair, Emily Rochefort and Caroline Carlton as the #3 pair, Layna Braxton and Madison Petsos as the #4 pair and Lizzie Knapper and ErinBrett as the #5 pair. The Bears topped Tulane in early April and fell to UNF, UAB and AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship participants Pepperdine and College of Charleston.
The Ospreys from North Florida (5-2) will field the #1 pair of Anna Budinska and Dagnija Medina, the #2 pair of Carolyn Jenkins and Emily Strack, Julie Trembley and Britt Claessens as the #3 pair, Cameron McGuire and Paige Pridgeon as the #4 pair and Allison Shirley and Nicole Baran as the #5 pair. UNF recorded dual match wins over Jacksonville, Mercer and UAB and fell to AVCA National Championship participants Pepperdine and College of Charleston.
Rounding out the field, the Stetson Hatters (6-7) will field Kayley Melville and Julie Bassett as their #1 pair, Alexa Stonish and Maren Bygh as the #2 pair, Alisha Hoffman and Claudia Kalin as the #3 pair, Catherine DiGirolamo and Stephanie Marin as the #4 pair and Kaylee Ream and Savannah Byl as the #5 pair. The Hatters were 2-2 against A-Sun foes in 2012 and recorded a big non-conference win against College of Charleston, who is one of four teams playing in the AVCA National Championship next weekend. The Hatters claimed two A-Sun Sand Volleyball Pair of the Week honors with Bassett and Stonish on March 21 and Rygh and Stonish on April 11.
Although in its infancy, two A-Sun sand volleyball pairs earned recognition for their success. The Stetson duo of Julie Bassett and Kaley Melville and UNF's tandem of Dagnija Medina and Emily Strack will represent their schools and the A-Sun at the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball NationalChampionship, April 27-29, in Gulf Shores, Ala.
In January 2010, through the legislative process, the NCAA Division I membership added sand volleyball to its list of emerging sports for women, effective for the 2011-12 school year. The sand volleyball season will be opposite the traditional court volleyball season with spring competition. Team competition will feature ten players teamed in five sets of pairs.
According to the most current list compiled by the Sand Committee of the AVCA D1 Head Coaches Committee, the A-Sun's quintet comprises nearly one-third of the teams committed to sponsoring a team for the 2012 season. That list also includes Cal State University at Long Beach, Pepperdine, the University of Southern California, the University of Hawaii, Loyola Marymount University, Florida State University, the College of Charleston, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Tulane University, Florida Atlantic University, Webber International (NAIA), Irvine Valley College (CCCAA), Golden West College (CCCAA), Fullerton College (CCCAA) and Riverside City College (CCCAA). Georgia State University and Florida International University have also confirmed their intent to sponsor teams in 2013.
As an emerging sport, the Division I membership allows 10 years for sports sponsorship to grow to a minimum of 40 varsity teams. If the minimum sponsorship target is met, the membership can consider the implementation of an NCAA Championship for sand volleyball.