Georgia State returns to NCAA beach volleyball tournament

Georgia State won the 2022 Conference USA beach volleyball title and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament. (Daniel Wilson photo.)

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Georgia State won the 2022 Conference USA beach volleyball title and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament. (Daniel Wilson photo.)

The nontraditional setting for Georgia State’s beach volleyball team hasn’t prevented the program from becoming one of the nation’s better programs.

Instead of an ocean – like you’d expect to find at one of the California or Florida schools – at Georgia State you can spot the gold dome of the Georgia Capitol from the sand behind the GSU Sports Arena. That, along with the regular hum of the trains on the MARTA track that runs in the background, provides Georgia State with a unique setting for its ascending program.

“You don’t have to have a beach and water,” Georgia State coach Beth Van Fleet said. “The whole goal is to keep it out of the water.”

On Wednesday, the Panthers will compete in the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championships for the second time. Georgia State, ranked No. 15 in the nation, is the No. 10 seed in the 16-team field and will play No. 7-seed Grand Canyon at 5 p.m. at Gulf Place Beach in Gulf Shores, Ala. Once-beaten Southern Cal is the top seed and tournament favorite.

The 16-team field opens with a single-elimination round Wednesday. The eight winners advance to a double-elimination bracket, and the NCAA will crown a national champion Sunday.

“From the beginning, we knew it was something that was definitely within our grasp,” senior Kelly Dorn said. “I think our team was extra motivated this year, and at the end of the year, we just finished super strong and won our conference to secure that final bid.”

Georgia State competes in Conference USA for beach volleyball. The Panthers went 4-0 in the conference tournament in Huntsville, Ala., defeating No. 13-ranked Florida International 3-0 in the final.

Van Fleet played volleyball at Georgia State from 1995-98 and helped the team win two Trans-America Athletic Conference regular-season championships and win 69 games. She became the head coach in 2014 and took the team to the AVCA national tournament in 2015 and the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 2016. This is the fifth time in six seasons the team has won 20-plus games, the exception being the COVID-shortened 2020 season when they went 11-3.

The Panthers (26-11) have faced a difficult schedule. They’ve played NCAA qualifiers Florida State, Stetson, TCU, UCLA, LSU, Grand Canyon, Florida Atlantic and Stetson. Georgia State has beaten Florida Atlantic once and Stetson twice.

“The schedule we built this year, as we started looking at it, we realized how strong it was going to be and how it would absolutely prepare us for the conference tournament and then be a great pathway to get back to the national stage,” Van Fleet said.

The Panthers have picked up numerous awards along the way. Sisters Angel Ferary and Bella Ferary were named first-team all-conference. Chloee Kleespies and Becky Tresham were named GSU athletes of the week after going unbeaten in the conference tournament. Kayla Whetstone and Yasmin Kuck won the deciding match in the championship match.

“When we saw they won, we got to run down into the arms of our teammates and jump around,” Dorn said. “It was so much fun. The season has been so much fun.”

The pressure will be on Georgia State to win its first match against Grand Canyon and advance to the double-elimination phase. The Panthers lost 4-1 to Grand Canyon earlier this season in the March to May tournament in Gulf Shores, although that has provided some motivation.

“We had to play Grand Canyon, and it was really cool because as soon as the game was over and we lost, so many people were like, ‘I would love to play them again,’” Van Fleet said. “The universe was listening and here we are.”

Dorn said, “I think it’s within our grasp to win this game and make it to the weekend. The last time we were at Gulf Shores we played UCLA, and they were No. 1 at the time, and we lost 3-2, and it was a super-close third set. So I think we realize anything is possible. We’re capable of beating anybody out here.”

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Chloee Kleespies, here diving to make a shot at the Conference USA Tournament, and Becky Tresham were undefeated in the conference tournament. (Daniel Wilson photo)

Credit: Daniel Wilson

Chloee Kleespies, here diving to make a shot at the Conference USA Tournament, and Becky Tresham were undefeated in the conference tournament. (Daniel Wilson photo)

Credit: Daniel Wilson

Combined ShapeCaption
Chloee Kleespies, here diving to make a shot at the Conference USA Tournament, and Becky Tresham were undefeated in the conference tournament. (Daniel Wilson photo)

Credit: Daniel Wilson

Credit: Daniel Wilson