The No. 8 ranked Georgia State Beach Volleyball team is starting off the season right where they left off last year. Last year the team went 18-3 on the season, despite it being only their third season into existence and this season is no different as the team is off to a 14-2 start.
The Panthers entered this season joining the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association (CCSA) conference, along with UAB, Florida Atlantic (FAU), Florida International, Florida State, LSU, South Carolina and Tulane. Entering this conference means a chance at a conference championship, as well as a chance to compete in the first NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship that will take place May 5-7 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Georgia State started the season off at the Burrow Beach Bash and went up against North Florida, Webber and FAU all in the same day. The Panthers crushed North Florida 4-1 winning the first four flights before losing their final fifth flight. Against Webber, the Panthers made sure not to lose any more flights as they dominated winning all five flights.
However in the final match of the day, the Panthers had trouble against conference opponent FAU as they lost 3-2. It was the Panthers first loss against FAU in their six meetings all time. Even though the Panthers started off conference play 0-1, they didn’t let that lone loss affect how they’d play for the rest of the season.
The Panthers took their frustration from the loss out against Mercer at home with an impressive 5-0 win and improved to 3-1 on the season. They are 7-0 all-time against Mercer, and used the momentum from this game towards the LSU Invitational in which they would face two conference opponents.
In the LSU Invitational, the Panthers won all five of their games to complete the sweep and bring their record to 8-1 and 2-1 in conference play. The Panthers, at the time were ranked No. 10, faced off their first match against No. 8 ranked Stetson and won a hard fought match 3-2 despite losing the first flight. This was also a morale victory for GSU, as they got revenge against Stetson for last year’s lost in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Championship Tournament.
Not only did the Panthers beat one ranked team, but they beat two as their next match was against conference foe No. 9 ranked Florida International. GSU dominated that game 4-1 and got their first ever conference win.
At the LSU Invitational, the Panthers continued their dominance as they won the next two matches 5-0 against the University of New Orleans and UL Monroe. They then faced off against tournament host and conference foe LSU. LSU won the first two flights of the match putting the Panthers in a 2-0 hole, as seniors Sara Olivova and Jansen Button lost their first matches of the season. Despite their best players losing their match and being put in a 2-0 hole, the Panthers didn’t waver as they won the next three flights for their second conference win.
The Panthers, No. 8 ranked now, next opponent was No. 1 ranked Pepperdine at the College of Charleston Beach Tournament. The last time they faced Pepperdine, the Panthers were swept 5-0 at the AVCA Championship Tournament. Not much changed this time around as Pepperdine won 4-1, but at least seniors Olivova and Button were able to get their personal revenge as they were the only ones to win a flight.
Once again after a loss, the Panthers took their frustration out against their next two opponents Lincoln Memorial and University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). The Panthers swept both Lincoln and UNCW 5-0 and improved to 10-2 on the season and 2-1 in conference play.
Button/Olivova and Pickering/Rohan leading the way
Seniors Button, Olivova, Milani Pickering and junior Delaney Rohan are leading the Panthers way to victory as the two groups are a combined 22-2 in play this season.
Button and Olivova earned AVCA All-America honors last season and started out this season being named into the CCSA Preseason All-Conference Team. They are the winningest duo in GSU beach volleyball history with a combined record of 69-41 in their career.
The duo started out the season with 8 straight wins before losing to conference foe LSU. Being the senior leaders that they are, after losing their first match against LSU, they motivated their teammates to do better than they did and the team responded well winning the last three flights to take the win.
The most surprising duo of this season has to be Pickering and Rohan. The two have dominated this season going 11-1 together and won their first nine matches. Their lone loss this season was against No. 1 ranked Pepperdine. Picking and Rohan were also named Student-Athletes of the Week this season and were the first beach volleyball players to be acknowledged for the award this season.
Button/Olivova and Pickering/Rohan both have yet to lose against the same opponent this season and they look to keep that streak going for the rest of the season. The Panthers hosted and swept their final home event of the season against UNCW, Eckerd, UL Monroe and Lincoln Memorial at the GSU Sand Slam.