Beach volleyball opens season

Beach+volleyball+opens+season

Mackenna Barker, Online Sports Editor

Tulane beach volleyball opens its season Friday at the two-day Stetson Spring Break Invitational in Deland, Florida. After five months of training and one of the longest offseasons in NCAA Division I sports, the team is chomping at the bit to get the season rolling.

“The whole season really is such a long time coming for us,” head coach Wayne Holly said. “[The players] are so anxious to get going.”

The team enters its fifth overall season on strong footing, earning No. 18 ranking nationally, according to the DiG Magazine’s NCAA Beach Volleyball Preseason Poll.

“I’m proud about the fact that we’re the one of the few nationally ranked teams in the country,” Holly said. “Internally, I’ve always just measured our success by how we perform every day. We all know what we’re about, we don’t necessarily look outside of our program for that reassurance. But that being said, it’s nice whenever we get Tulane and our program out in the press, and they certainly deserve it.”

The team, while excited about the ranking, is not getting caught up in the title and continues to focus on the chance to perform.

“I think it’s a good testament to how far our program has come,” senior Jackie Wegner said. “As a whole, we know our potential, so a ranking isn’t our motivation or what we see ourselves as, but it always is nice to get external recognition as well.”

Wegner and junior Tea Juric spearhead the team this year after leading the team in wins last year as the first ever Tulane pair to notch more than 30 victories. The pair also received back-to-back bids to the AVCA National Championship in 2014 and 2015, where they made it to the Sweet 16 last year. This preseason, the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association named the two to the All-Conference team.

“[Wegner and Juric] have a two year history of performing at that high level and we expect them to do the same thing again this year,” Holly said. “Two great athletes greatly committed to the sport.”

Sophomore Madeline Mertz was the other Green Wave player to secure preseason honors, earning a spot on the Preseason Watch List. As freshmen, Mertz and partner Lan Nguyen finished their first year at Tulane with a 22-9 record. Mertz ran off a 13-match win streak, the longest of any player last season.

“[Mertz and Nguyen] are two of the finest athletes that we’ve recruited since I’ve been here,” Holly said. “[Mertz] is really the complete package, she’s an awesome person, a great athlete and an amazing student so she certainly deserves it. She’ll be an all-conference player in the future.”

Joining the team this year is a class of five freshmen. Despite being new to the collegiate scene, Holly anticipates a strong contribution from the class.

“[They are] experienced players,” Holly said. “They’re freshmen but they’re no rookies to beach volleyball. I think they’re among the strongest class we’ve ever recruited here, and we’ve had good classes. Several of them have already made their way into the starting rotation.”

With over 30 matches in the span of two months, the team will have ample opportunity to perform and improve on its strong preseason standing. With powerful opponents such as No. 7 UCLA, No. 3 Hawaii and No. 1 USC this season, the team will also have many chances to compete at the highest levels of NCAA beach volleyball.

The Wave opens against Carson-Newman College at 9:30 a.m. Friday. The Wave then takes on No. 10 Stetson at 12:30 p.m. and Spring Hill at 5 p.m., wrapping up the first day. Tulane finishes the Stetson Spring Break Invitational Saturday when it will take on the College of Charleston at noon and close out the weekend against UNC-Wilmington at 3 p.m.

Tulane fans can catch the Tulane beach volleyball team in action at home March 18-19 when it hosts the Pelican Classic at the White Sands in Metairie.