If I were on the Dons’ beach volleyball team, I’d want to forget the 2017 season. The Dons dropped all 15 matches they played and won only six sets in 85 total played. This coming season, only seven of the 17 members of USF’s beach volleyball team are returning from last year’s team.
The Dons opened their redemption campaign at the Stanford Bay Area Kickoff in Palo Alto, CA. The Dons defeated the Broncos of Santa Clara University 3-2, with games won by No. 1 pair Hailey Howell and Carly Lowry, No. 2 pair Julia Topor and Anna Dalla Vecchia and No. 5 pair Sabrina Blackwell and Laura Leap. This was already a marked improvement for the new Dons, as Santa Clara defeated the Dons twice in 2017, 3-2 in both matches.
The Dons’ next matchup was much tougher, as they took on the tournament host, the Stanford Cardinals, who were ranked 16th in the country in the latest AVCA Beach Volleyball Coaches Poll. The Dons dropped that match 4-1, with No. 3 pair Camille Araujo and Nora Buvarp Lavik pulling a set back against the Cardinals.
In Saturday’s matches, the Dons dropped both matches to the Saint Mary’s Gaels (0-5) and the Pacific Tigers (1-4). The No. 5 pair Pi’ikea Clemens and Shannon Levinson were responsible for the only set the Dons won. The Dons left the Stanford Bay Area Kickoff with a record of 1-3 on the season.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, the Dons will take on familiar West Coast opponents, including a marquee matchup against the eighth-ranked Mustangs of California Polytechnic State University, Saint Luis Obispo on March 10 in Santa Cruz at 11:00 a.m. This is part of a triple header also featuring matchups with California State University, Northridge, and Sacramento State University.
USF does not have the facilities to host sand volleyball matches at the collegiate level, meaning the Dons will be on the road every weekend of the season, with the West Coast Conference Tournament taking place on April 20 and 21 in Santa Monica. The long road to the conference tournament will take the Dons throughout the greater Bay Area and Northern California.
The Dons will need to rely upon experienced leaders to make it through the season, and leadership will come from the top. The Dons field three graduate students who will lend themselves to sand volleyball after successful collegiate careers in indoor volleyball.
Hailey Howell amounted 2,422 career assists as a four year varsity player at Salpointe Catholic High School in Arizona and went on to win Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Setter of the Year in 2015. This is her first year on the team.
Julia Topor recorded 903 kills as an opposite hitter in her indoor collegiate career, playing at UNLV in 2013 and Boston College from 2014 to 2016. This is also Topor’s first season with the Dons. Sabrina Blackwell recorded 286 career digs in her four seasons at UC Berkeley and is also making her USF debut.
Alongside seniors Nora Buvarp Lavik and Marjolijn Oskam, the experienced Dons will be taking eleven underclassmen under their wings, including six freshmen. This is no doubt a rebuilding year for the University of San Francisco Dons, who are also under first year coach Frank Lavrisha.
Following the tripleheader in Santa Cruz, the Dons will take on the Gaels of St. Mary’s College in Moraga on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). The Dons will close the month of March with three road trips in eight days, travelling to San Jose, Stockton and Berkeley to take on the San Jose State University Spartans, the University of the Pacific Tigers and UC Berkeley Bears, respectively. The Dons will open April with a doubleheader down in Santa Clara on April 7, taking on the Spartans and Broncos each for the second time. Their final tuneup before the conference tournament will take place in Rocklin, CA, with a Saturday doubleheader against the Rams of Gavilan College and the Wolverines of Sierra College on April 14. When it’s all said and done, the Dons will have played 15 straight road matches in less than two months.
Featured Photo: The 2017-2018 Beach Volleyball team is ready to reclaim their reputation this season.