UAB Runs Into Top Competition At AVCA Nationals

Thomas (left) and Gallagher (right) will play again Sunday in the single-elimination championship bracket.

April 27, 2012

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GULF SHORES, Ala. -- UAB's Heather Thomas and Kirsten Gallagher suffered three losses in pool play Friday on day one of the inaugural AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championships.

Playing as one of 16 duos in the Pairs Championship, Thomas and Gallagher found the going tough against some of the nation's best in teams from USC, Pepperdine and Florida Atlantic.

"The Pepperdine team we played might be the best team here, and I would say the USC team we played is among the top five," UAB head coach Hal Messersmith said. "FAU has also been good all year."

UAB's first match of the day came against USC's Kirby Burnham and Kelly Irvin. The Blazers started slowly before gathering themselves in the second set but went on to drop a 21-8, 21-17 decision.

Thomas and Gallagher were then back on the court immediately for a contest against the No. 1 pair from a Pepperdine squad that is the No. 1 seed in this weekend's team national championship. UAB fell to Caitlin Racich and Summer Ross by scores of 21-8, 21-12.

The Blazers' final match of the day came against the top team from Florida Atlantic, Joanne Marras Tate and Alessia Pizzoccheri. The FAU squad topped Thomas and Gallagher, 21-13, 21-17.

"Against USC, we played a nervous first set, but we were able to come back in the second and play more relaxed and make it closer," Messersmith said. "FAU was just quicker than us, and we struggled with them. We played with them for most of the match but couldn't win the key points."

The Pairs Championship now takes a one-day break for the team national championship before picking back up on Sunday. Based on the results of Friday's pool play, the pairs have been seeded into a single-elimination bracket.

UAB has been awarded the No. 16 seed and will play Sunday against another pair from Pepperdine, Lilla Frederick and Kim Hill, which went undefeated like their Wave counterparts Friday and earned the No. 1 seed.

Sand volleyball is in its first season as an intercollegiate sport, having been deemed an emerging sport by the NCAA in 2011. The championship in this first season is sponsored by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).

UAB's tandem of Thomas and Gallagher was one of eight pairs to receive at-large berths into the field. The other eight pairs are were invited automatically for being one of the top two pairs on one of the four teams selected for the team championship.

All of this weekend's action is taking place on the public beach in Gulf Shores in front of "The Hangout" restaurant, one of the corporate partners for the event.

Friday's Pool Play Results
Burnham/Irvin (USC) def. Gallagher/Thomas (UAB); 21-8, 21-17
Racich/Ross (Pepperdine) def. Gallagher/Thomas (UAB); 21-8, 21-12
Marras Tate/Pizzoccheri (FAU) def. Gallagher/Thomas (UAB); 21-13, 21-17

First-Round Matchups For Sunday
(1) Frederick/Hill (Pepperdine) vs. (16) Gallagher/Thomas (UAB)
(9) Hampton/Cabrajac (LBSU) vs. (8) Stoltzman/Hartong (Hawaii)
(5) Ledoux/Roenicke (LBSU) vs. (12) Melville/Bassett (Stetson)
(13) Shelton/Kolich (C of C) vs. (4) Newgard/Tiegs (FSU)

(3) Pardon/Stepanova (FSU) vs. (14) Medina/Strack (UNF)
(11) Tate/Pizzocheri (FAU) vs. (6) Burnham/Irvin (USC)
(7) Croson/Lee (Hawaii) vs. (10) Urango/Shaw (USC)
(15) Chubb/Theesfeld (C of C) vs. (2) Racich/Ross (Pepperdine)