Standout prep players from five different states around the country have signed on during the early fall signing period and will be enrolling at GSU in fall 2012. The players set their sights on Atlanta with much acclaim and many accolades, looking to establish the Panther program among the nation's best in the emerging sport.
"With this being the inaugural class, I think our recruiting has been outstanding," said head coach Tami Audia. "The dedication of these athletes and the desire they have to make GSU Sand one of the best teams in the country right away is inspiring. We have really smart and decorated players to kick off this first season."
Here is the inaugural class:
Jansen Button- Menifee, Calif. (Paloma Valley HS)
A 5-foot-7 left-hander from southern California who currently ranks as the top under-18 player in the California Beach Volleyball Association. She has won 11 CBVA tournaments with 22 top-three finishes. Button went on to earn a second-place finish at the USA Beach Junior National Tour's Chicago event and a third-place finish at the USAV High Performance Championship, both earlier this year. She also competes for the 692 West Beach/Sand Volleyball Club.
Sara Olivova- Birmingham, Mich. (Seaholm HS)
Originally from the Czech Republic, the 5-foot-10 left side captured the gold medal at the AAU Junior Florida Open 18U Beach Volleyball Tournament in 2010. She has excelled at both the sand and indoor games, being named an all-league, all-district and all-region selection with her high school court team. Olivova plays at the club level with Instant Replay Volleyball in suburban Detroit.
Milani Pickering- Mesa, Ariz. (Mountain View HS)
The 5-foot-8 right side qualified for the 2011 USAV Beach Championship and placed fifth at the USA Beach High Performance Championship tournament. In 2008, Pickering was selected for the USA Beach Bilateral Exchange in Russia and was a team captain. She has led her indoor team to the state playoffs with a perfect 12-0 record and first place in the Bronze Nike Tournament earlier this year.
Katelyn Rawls- Wellington, Fla. (Wellington HS)
Rawls is a 5-foot-10 left side who has earned multiple honors for her play indoors, including first-team all-county honors and three AAV all-star nods. The Florida native was named the "top athlete to watch" in Palm Beach County and has led her court team to a 23-1 record and a district title. She competes at the club level for Ocean Breeze Volleyball.
Nikki Senopoulos- Plainsboro, N.J. (West Windsor-Plainsboro HS South)
A 5-foot-9 left side who earned MVP honors this year with WWVBC Club Volleyball and is a Great American Volleyball Juniors champion. Senopoulos has guided her indoor squad to back-to-back New Jersey state finals and was named the team's most improved player a season ago. She plays at the club level with West Windsor Volleyball.
Four of the five signees also competed in the 2011 Beach Dig College Sand Volleyball Scout Camp over the summer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which featured 54 of the game's top prep players.
"Due to this group's athleticism, ball handling skills and knowledge of the sand game, we'll be a team that makes instantaneous adjustments and executes," says assistant sand coach Beth Van Fleet, an eight-year AVP Beach professional. "There's not a lot of guesswork involved in the doubles game, it's more about which team gets to the ball and makes the right play. Our style of play will combine our athleticism and intelligence."
Sand volleyball will first be played at the NCAA level this spring by approximately 15-20 schools, with GSU joining the ranks with other schools for the following season (2013). Each team will carry about 12 players at the time of competition, as GSU is expected to add more signees in the spring.
The Panthers are slated to play in a new sand facility located behind the current GSU Sports Arena.
In dual matches, teams compete in a style much like tennis doubles. Each school will field five two-player teams that will compete against the opposition's five top units. On each court, the first team to win two out of three sets earns a point for their school, and the school who earns the most points claims the competition.