Beach volleyball anticipates success in upcoming season

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

After an eventful offseason that included a hurricane and a two-week training camp with several Olympians, Tulane University beach volleyball will begin their 2022 season on Feb. 25 against LSU when the Tigers travel to New Orleans to play at the Green Wave Invitational.

Last season, the team finished with a record of 22-15, including an impressive home record of 11-2. Tulane’s leading pair last season, Samantha Mehlman and Addison Hermstad, finished 29-8, including defeating six ranked opponents. 

This season’s squad is much different from last year’s. Hermstad graduated from Tulane last spring. “​​The makeup of the team is very different. Last year half of the team were seniors or grad students, and we are majority underclassmen this year, so very exciting in regard to the youth, the eagerness to learn and the different combinations that we see as potential, good matches for strength for us,” head coach Eyal Zimet said. 

Zimet, however, is grateful for the leadership and maturity the upperclassmen are providing. “We’ve had players like Laura Torruella and Ashton Mares and Savka [Popovic] and Haley [Gibson] …  [and] Maddie Speicher. For us we have one senior, so between the seniors and the junior class, we feel like there’s some nice leadership going on there from the beginning of the fall,” he said.

Adding to this group is graduate transfer Josie Cole from the Oregon Ducks, a highly experienced player with experience in both indoor and beach volleyball. Zimet praises the physicality Cole brings to the program and has been experimenting with combinations to bring the best out of his transfer.

Familiar faces are returning to the court this year, most notably Mehlman and Kendall Peters. Peters defeated three ranked opponents playing mostly on court one last year, including against Grand Canyon, Florida-Gulf Coast and Georgia State. 

As for Mehlman, Zimet notes how much growth he has seen both on and off the court from her. “I feel like seeing Sam, specifically from last year, take a huge jump personally, and I’m super proud of the way she had a great season last year … ” Zimet said. “We’re definitely looking for her to continue her trajectory since her freshman year to be able to keep improving her game and keep adding leadership to her role as well as her playing prowess on the court.”

Hurricane Ida proved to be a challenge for everyone both at Tulane and in New Orleans, and it was no exception with beach volleyball. However, the team was able to use the time evacuated in the best way possible, undergoing a two-week training camp in Manhattan Beach, California led by three-time Olympian Holly McPeak. Assistant coaches including 2008 Beijing Olympic player Nicole Branagh, top-20 Association of Volley Professionals player Kelly Reeves and 2002 AVP rookie of the year Angie Akers were also present.

Commenting on the camp, Zimet said, “I’m really proud of the way the team approached the time that we had away from campus and just getting together in Manhattan Beach, that experience was priceless to say the least … I know Nicole Branagh … stopped by and it was [a] great opportunity for our team to experience different aspects of the game and different voices.”

McPeak said in an email, “I had a busy two weeks but was able to work around it and got some great assistants to help me coach these young athletes. I think it was a great experience for everyone, and we all really enjoyed it. We made lemonade out of lemons!”

Looking ahead to the season, the Green Wave faces several tough matchups against some of the best programs in the country, including facing LSU twice, Loyola Marymount, Florida State and the runners up in last year’s national championship, the UCLA Bruins. The team, however, is excited to test themselves against the best in the nation.

When asked whether he believes that the team is good enough to make the national championships, Zimet responded, “I see that we have a chance absolutely. That’s [why] we are competing. That’s why we get up in the morning to practice … that’s what’s on our mind.”

Tulane will host ten matchups over two tournaments on the weekends of Feb. 25 and Mar. 11. All matches will be played at White Sands Volleyball Courts, just a 15-minute drive from Tulane’s uptown campus.