Slinging the Sand: Many USC alumni primed for success at the international level

The USC women’s beach volleyball program has produced plenty of high-quality talent over the years.

Graudina is leaning forward to hit the ball. She is wearing sunglasses, a cardinal jersey and black shorts.

With the Phoenix Championships in the past, the AVP season is essentially over. There are two more tournaments left — one from November 12 to 13 and the other from December 2 to 4.

But international volleyball is a different beast. Tournaments of all different levels continue to rage on until January.

There was a International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) Elite 16 tournament in Paris that took place a few weeks back from September 27 to October 2. This was an exciting tournament with the best teams from all over the world.

On the men’s side, no American teams qualified for the tournament. Trojan alum Andy Benesh played with Miles Evans but lost in qualifying to Australians Mark Nicolaidis and Izac Carracher.

Even without any Americans in the main draw, there was no lack of exciting play. Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sørum came out victorious.

With that win in Paris, they reclaimed the No. 1 overall ranking on the international stage after over a year.

The women’s side was a little more exciting for American and Trojan fans. Trojan alum Tina Graudina had an incredible performance throughout the tournament.

Graudina and her partner Anastasija Samoilova battled their way into the finals before falling to the Dutch team of Raïsa Schoon and Katja Stam.

The Latvians have much to be proud of as they beat the top-seeded Brazilians Eduarda Santos Lisboa and Ana Patrícia Ramos for the first time. Graudina and Samoilova were 0-5 against the Brazilians up to that point but finally defeated them in the semifinals of Paris.

Besides Graudina, there were three more former USC players and one current USC player at Paris.

The current player is Megan Kraft who is a junior right now, but that isn’t stopping her from competing at the highest level internationally.

Kraft was partnered with veteran Emily Stockman. The two had a solid showing, but, unfortunately, they didn’t make it out of the pool because they had a worse point differential than the top two teams.

Another former Trojan, Terese Cannon, was in the same pool but she and her partner Sarah Sponcil didn’t win a match and thus didn’t make it out of pool play either.

The remaining two Trojans were also in the same pool but on different teams. One of the two, Sophie Bukovec, represented Canada alongside partner Brandie Wilkerson.

They didn’t have much success either as they won one game and didn’t make it out of pool play.

But the last former Trojan, Kelly Cheng, went 3-0 in pool play with her partner Betsi Flint. Their quarterfinal matchup came against the No. 2-seed and No. 1 team in the world of Carolina Salgado and Bárbara Seixas.

The Americans squeaked out a three-set win before they went down in the semifinals to the eventual champions of Schoon and Stam.

Former Trojans placed second, fourth, ninth and 13th at Paris. All in all, it was a very impressive showing for former Trojans and it looks like the results will only improve from here.

There are also still plenty of USC alumni that are less established at the moment but looking for a breakthrough.

The Maldives qualifier is another FIVB tournament, but it’s a challenger rather than an Elite 16 event. It is happening right now and will conclude on October 16th.

Former Trojan Julia Scoles is partnered with UCLA alum Zara Muno, and another USC alum, Hailey Harward, is partnered with current Stanford player Xolani Hodel.

There are also a total of 16 women’s players representing the U.S. in the Maldives. The future for American beach volleyball looks bright with a few Trojan alumni leading the way.

The play of the “week” comes from pool play in the Paris Championships. Bukovec and Wilkerson had a monster rally against Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, and I’ll let the rally speak for itself.

“Slinging the Sand” runs every other Friday.