Gulf Shores, AL - The Florida State sand volleyball team finished runner-up at the 2014 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships on Saturday afternoon.
The third-seeded Seminoles dropped a hard-fought battle to No. 2 Pepperdine, 3-2, in their first-ever National Championship Finals appearance in front of nearly 1,000 fans on the beaches of Gulf Shores.
In a staggered start format where just two games were played on the courts at a time, the match was tied 2-2 and came down to the final contest between the No. 2 pairs of Florida State’s Stephanie Pellitteri and Kristina Pellitteri and Pepperdine’s Lara Dykstra and Becca Strehlow.
The Waves’ duo picked up the first set 24-22 with an ace in a back-and-forth frame that featured 10 ties. Pepperdine pulled away in the second set to win 21-17 and claim the 2014 national title.
“For the sport to grow, we wanted to create drama and we did,” Florida State head coach Danalee Corso said. “It was 2-2 down to the wire. Every shot mattered. I’m really proud of our team and the way we handled the pressure. Pepperdine had been to the championship match each year and this was our first time in that position. We’ll be more prepared now. We’re bummed we didn’t win, but I’m proud we took second out of all the teams in the country. It’s our best finish yet.”
The Seminoles finish the 2014 season 19-3 after going 3-2 at the National Championships, falling only to the Waves.
The Pellitteri sisters and Florida State’s No. 1 duo of senior Aurora Davis and junior Jace Pardon have one more day of competition on Sunday beginning at 8 a.m. CT in the single-elimination 16-team National Pairs Championship. Davis and Pardon are the No. 2 seed, while the Pellitteri’s are the No. 8 seed.
“We couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic ending,” junior Sarah Wickstrom said. “It was a tough loss, but we did our thing all weekend. We came up just short. We showed that an East Coast team can win this. We were so close. It gives us more motivation. We are really going to work hard next year and hopefully come out on top.”
The Seminoles fell to the Waves, 4-1, on Friday and advanced to the National Semifinals by beating FIU later that day, 5-0, in the loser’s bracket.
In its third straight appearance in the National Semifinals, FSU finally advanced to the Finals by taking down Hawaii, 4-1 on Saturday morning.
The showdown with Pepperdine was close from the start and opened with Flights 4 and 5 on the courts.
FSU’s No. 4 team of junior Melanie Pavels and sophomore Julie Brown avenged a two-set loss to Pepperdine’s Emily Cook and Katie Messing on Friday by beating that same Waves’ pair in two sets when it mattered most in the opening National Championship game. Pavels had three key aces, while Brown provided several timely blocks and kills en route to the 21-14, 24-22 win that put the Seminoles in front 1-0.
“Our match was really close in the beginning,” Brown said. “We wanted to win in two. They got a couple of serves on us and we said ‘No. This is not happening.’ We slowed ourselves down and then refocused our energy on winning 1-2.”
Freshmen Sierra Sanchez and Hailey Luke battled hard in the Flight 5 game, but ultimately dropped a 21-19, 23-21 contest to Pepperdine’s Sophie Asperey and Victoria Adelhelm.
The Seminoles’ No. 3 pair of senior Fatma Yildirim and Wickstrom gave the Garnet and Gold a 2-1 lead by taking down the Waves’ third team of Delaney Knudsen and Caitlin Racich with consistent defense and some devastating offense, 21-19, 21-15.
Yildirim, a fifth-year senior, closed out her career by putting it all on the line, constantly putting up a big block and providing a steady stream of powerful kills each match. Yildirim was so dominant that she had an unheard-of 31 kills in the tournament’s opening match against Stetson.
She and Wickstrom were the only FSU team to go undefeated on the weekend, finishing 5-0.
Davis and Pardon came very close to clinching the Seminoles’ first sand volleyball title against Pepperdine’s top duo of Kelley Larsen and Kellie Woolever, pushing the Waves pair to a third set.
After dropping the first set 21-19, Davis and Pardon dominated the second set 21-11. The two tandems traded points in the third set until Pepperdine pulled away with the game tied 11-11 and won 15-13 to tie the match 2-2.
The Pellitteri sisters fought hard against Dykstra and Strehlow, coming back in the first set to tie the battle at 21-21 before losing 24-22.
The sisters were even with the Waves in the second set until a quick 3-0 run gave Pepperdine a four-point advantage (17-13) it would not relinquish in the 21-17 second set victory.
“This year felt different,” Corso said. “We’ve been ready for weeks. The team is starting to take ownership and realizing we have to work harder to be No. 1. We are holding ourselves accountable and that’s the culture we need to have to be a championship team. We’ve seen what it takes, and now we’ll be more ready to win.
We’re all competitive. We’re happy to get second, but we aren’t satisfied.”
CBS Sports Network will televise portions of the National Championship competition, including Saturday’s team championship in its entirety in a two-hour special that will have three airings on May 26 (7 p.m. ET), May 30 (7:30 p.m. ET) and June 2 (7 p.m. ET).
For more information visit Seminoles.com and follow the Florida State sand volleyball team's official twitter account @FSU_SVB.
#3 Florida State 4, #4 Hawaii 1
At Gulf Shores, Ala.
1.) Jace Pardon-Aurora Davis (FSU) def. Brittany Tiegs-Karissa Cook (UH) 23-25, 21-18, 15-13
2.) Stephanie Pellitteri-Kristina Pellitteri (FSU) def. Katie Spieler-Nikkie Taylor (UH) 21-13, 21-19
3.) Fatma Yildirim-Sarah Wickstrom (FSU) def. Ali Longo-Ginger Long (UH) 21-14, 21-15
4.) Julie Brown-Melanie Pavels (FSU) def. London Chow-Olivia Urban (UH) 21-17, 11-21, 15-7
5.) Karlee Riggs-Mikayla Tucker (UH) def. Sierra Sanchez-Hailey Luke (FSU) 14-21, 22-20, 16-14
#2 Pepperdine 3, #3 Florida State 2
At Gulf Shores, Ala.
1.) Kelley Larsen-Kellie Woolever (Pep) def. Jace Pardon-Aurora Davis (FSU) 21-19, 11-21, 15-13
2.) Lara Dykstra-Becca Strehlow (Pep) def. Stephanie Pellitteri-Kristina Pellitteri (FSU) 24-22, 21-17
3.) Fatma Yildirim-Sarah Wickstrom (FSU) def. Delaney Knudsen-Caitlin Racich (Pep) 21-19, 21-15
4.) Julie Brown-Melanie Pavels (FSU) def. Emily Cook/Katie Messing (Pep) 21-14, 24-22
5.) Sophie Asperey/Victoria Adelhelm (Pep) def. Sierra Sanchez-Hailey Luke (FSU) 21-19, 23-21