June 11, 2012
By Ryan Syrkus, For FSU Sports Information
Just a few short months ago, Florida State University made history by winning the first collegiate sand volleyball match. On March 3, in a matchup with UAB, the Seminoles swept the Blazers, 5-0. Even with the first win out of the way, many more accomplishments would be met over the stretch of the inaugural season.
FSU became one of 15 schools across the nation to welcome the rising sport into the collegiate level. Sand volleyball has 10 years to gain at least 40 sponsoring institutions for two consecutive years before it is officially considered an NCAA championship sport.
Entering the season, no one really knew what to fully expect from the new athletes or coaches, yet the team aimed high in hopes to bring the first national championship back to Tallahassee.
"You're not sure with a new program or a new sport like this what everyone else is going to look like. You're kind of going into it blind," said director of volleyball and indoor volleyball coach Chris Poole. "There was a lot of pressure coming in because when you're trying to build a new program you're up on a pedestal and everyone is staring at you."
Even with the challenges of the first season, Poole felt the perfect person to lead the new sport was Danalee Corso, announcing her as the first head coach of sand volleyball.
"This is an exciting honor," Corso said about being hired last summer. "This is a viable position which anyone would love to have. It's my dream job and it feels great to lead the team in its embryonic stage."
The addition of the new sport not only gave fans a reason to enjoy the sun, it also opened more doors for young athletes across the nation. For the first season, sand volleyball had three scholarships to divide amongst 15 players. For the next three years, the sport will add one additional scholarship until they eventually reach six available for the 2014-2015 school year. The new team also gives indoor players the opportunity to move outside.
"It was definitely a lot to handle," said rising sophomore Sarah Wickstrom, who also plays for FSU's indoor team. "Luckily I was able to make the sacrifice and it was well worth it."
The addition of sand volleyball and the cross training of both teams is causing an additional advantage in recruiting.
"The sport is adding a top level of recruiting to those who want the option of both indoor and outdoor volleyball," said Corso. "It is a popular sport among young ladies and it is leading towards an arms race in the future."
With Corso at the helm, the Seminoles set out to prove they are a competitive team. "I think a lot of people automatically thought the West Coast was going to dominate and no team from the East Coast would even be competitive," Poole said. "Certainly Florida State proved that to be wrong. They were very competitive beating USC and Hawaii both."
Lead by the tandem of junior captain Aurora Newgard and sophomore Brittany Tiegs, the Seminoles stormed through the season undefeated in dual play (15-0) and placed third at the Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships in Gulf Shores, Ala., in April. The Newgard/Tiegs combination finished the season 50-7-1 overall and both captured All-America honors along with senior Jekaterina Stepanova.
"It is such an honor to be named an All-American," said Newgard. "I felt we had more on our team which could have also earned it, but it is still a dream come true." Newgard averaged 6.27 kills and 8.29 digs per set during the season and is a key player returning next year.
"Being captain means a lot," Newgard said. "It pushes me as a player and makes me be more responsible to try and set an example for the others."
Looking back on the inaugural season, Corso reflected on all the excitement while still looking forward to the next year.
"There was a lot of confusion this first season," said Corso. "Teams were jumping in; others were changing staff right up until the start of it. Luckily our staff is coming back. We were much better than expected and we look to continue on our early success."
Florida State recently announced the signing of five players to the program as the Seminoles look to build off their first season and continue to be a trendsetter in the newest collegiate sport.