April 29, 2012
GULF SHORES, Ala. -- The UAB duo of Heather Thomas and Kirsten Gallagher saw its weekend at the first-ever AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Pairs Championship come to an end Sunday morning with a loss to the top-seeded team from Pepperdine.
The 16th-seeded Blazer tandem dropped a 21-11, 21-11 decision to a pair of Pepperdine All-Americans, Lilla Frederick and Kim Hill, in the first round of the single-elimination championship bracket.
"We played really well today even though scores don't indicate it," UAB head coach Hal Messersmith said. "We made some great shots, but it's tough when the other team is as good as they are and they barely make any errors.
"Kim Hill is one of the best volleyball players I've seen, period. Some of our opponents this weekend weren't just NCAA caliber, they were Olympic caliber, so it was a great opportunity to play against them."
Frederick and Hill went on to advance to the semifinals of Sunday's championship bracket before falling to another Pepperdine duo, the eventual national champion pair of Caitlin Racich and Summer Ross. Thomas and Gallagher had previously played Racich and Ross on Friday during the pool-play portion of the championship.
"Heather and Kirsten played hard this weekend, and it was a great experience for us," Messersmith said. "We had one of the only teams, if not the only team, at the championship that didn't have any real sand experience before this season. But they represented UAB really well, and a lot of people commented on our program. It was an experience we can use to make our program better."
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 was 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 were invited automatically for being one of the top two pairs on one of the four teams selected for the team championship.
In addition to having the pairs champion and putting two duos in Sunday's semifinals, Pepperdine also won the team championship, contested Saturday.
"It was a great championship and a wonderful atmosphere," Messersmith said. "The Gulf Shores community did a great job of running the tournament, and I think this weekend will only help the sport take off even more."