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Thursday, February 02, 2023

Georgia bests rest of conference in inaugural beach volleyball competition

The rest of the Southeastern Conference will be wishing volleyball is only played outdoors from now on.

Georgia had more success against UF in this weekend's inaugural SEC Coaches Beach Volleyball Championships than it has had indoors the last 17 years - the Gators have not lost to the Bulldogs in that time span.

Eleven schools had a combined 40 participating teams, which were broken up into four brackets for pool play: Gold, Silver, Bronze and All-Terrain.

The Commissioner's Cup trophy, given to the team with the most points accumulated in all four brackets, was award to UGA, and its team of Britta Buethe and Erika Clark won the Gold Level title.

While the Gators did not come away with a win in any division, their four teams did have some success in the tournament.

The duo of rising sophomore hitter Lauren Bledsoe and rising junior setter Alli Cecchini made the deepest run in its bracket. Bledsoe and Cecchini did not lose a match until the championship game of the All-Terrain Level bracket to the South Carolina pair Petra Lorenzi and Megan Laughlin 21-15.

Rising junior libero Elyse Cusack and rising redshirt freshman outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel had much of its accomplishments in pool play, going 2-1-1 before losing in the first round of the Gold Level playoffs in a close match.

The UF teams in the Silver Level and Bronze Level finished in the same fashion as Cusack and Jaeckel. Rising sophomores Callie Rivers and Erin Fleming were eliminated in the first round of the Silver, and the rising senior pair of Kelsey Bowers and Christina Diaz lost in its opening Bronze Level playoff match.

The absence of trophies for the Gators can be partially chalked up to the lack of practice in beach volleyball.

"Our players don't have a lot of experience playing on the sand, and that showed today," UF coach Mary Wise said.

For teams hoping their achievements in the sand will translate to wins indoor next fall, they might have to wait a little while longer.

Wise expects her team to improve next year with the newly acquired skills from the tournament.

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"Everything we learned in this process, and the strides we made on the sand, will unquestionably help us with the indoor game," Wise said.

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