FIVB World Championships: Can U(S)C Me Now?
It was early February, and Anna Collier wanted to talk about the Manhattan Beach Open. She paused, doing a bit of mental math, thinking over the seeding. Yes, she confirmed. The top four seeds at last year’s Manhattan Beach Open, annually the biggest event on the beach volleyball calendar, featured USC alumni.
“Isn’t that crazy?” she wondered. It is, all things considered, astonishing. Especially when Collier, who took over the USC program in its infancy and led it to 206 wins to just 38 losses in her eight years as head coach, admitted she really had no idea how to start a beach program, for which there was no precedent in 2012.
“When I was hired, I knew nothing about collegiate sport at all,” Collier said. “Number two, I had no concept of what the team culture or team atmosphere would be, because when I trained, it was just a pair. Not only do you need that concept of team, which was something that every beach coach had to flip their brain — it’s not just about one pair. And then we had to do all the scheduling, all the rules, what do we want to do. We had to develop the sport for the NCAA so they could see that we can come in and take this.”
She took the fledgling program and turned it into one of the most dominant in all of collegiate sports. She won three consecutive National Championships, assembled a roster that won 62 straight matches and twice was named Coach of the Year. She’s retired now, Collier, though her legacy lives on.
All one has to do is look at the bracket of this week’s World Championships, which are decorated with USC athletes and, in particular, Collier’s former players. Four of the 16 teams remaining include a Trojan, though April Ross, while a USC alum, is not a Collier product. At the top of the bracket is Kelly Claes, she of the longest winning streak in college beach history, and Sarah Sponcil, who upset the top-seeded Germans on Wednesday to earn a matchup with Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth.
At the bottom, you’ll find Sara Hughes, Claes’ partner during the aforementioned winning streak, and Summer Ross, who also took down a pair of Germans in 2016 gold medalist Laura Ludwig and Margareta Kozuch, 21-15, 21-12.
Playing into the winner of that match is Ross and Klineman vs. Anastasija Kravcenoka and Tina Graudina, the most recent of Collier’s pupils. This past spring was Graudina’s sophomore season at USC, and she closed it as the Team of the Year alongside Abril Bustamante. Currently, her and Kravcenoka are ranked No. 29 in the Olympic race, though with a ninth already assured at World Champs, they’ll jump when the points are taken into account.
It was totally reasonable for Collier to deem it “crazy” when she took inventory of the Trojans populating the Manhattan Beach Open seeding. World Championships, though, is a different beast, with global competition and Olympic stakes on the line. And, with the way the bracket is positioned, it’s possible that there’s a Trojan vs. Trojan final.
If Collier thought she “knew nothing” when she took the USC job back in 2012, allow the success of her pupils, on the world’s biggest stage, to speak for her: It seems she figured it out just fine.
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