Gulf Shores, Ala. -- It's almost go time for the Stetson Hatters. Thursday, the team hit the courts at Gulf Shores Place for a day of fanfare before the start of the 2019 NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship on Friday.
After a 90-minute morning practice, the Hatters engaged in a 60-minute media interview and promotional video session with the NCAA and ESPN, followed by an autograph signing for the local youth. The team will attend a tournament banquet Thursday night.
The championship gets underway Friday as eighth-seeded Stetson (29-8) will face top-ranked and two-time NCAA national champion Southern Cal (28-4) at 10 a.m. ET. All five courts will be played simultaneously. The match will be broadcast on ESPNU, with live video streaming of each court on ESPN3.
Make no mistake, the Hatters are not simply satisfied with getting a bid. They are ready to compete for a national championship.
"We really had to battle with a lot of other teams to be here, so I think that helps us with our mentality of really being confident in our play and understanding we earned the right to be here," Stetson head coach Kristina Hernandez said. "We have a veteran group who is focused on going and competing."
"We are definitely happy to be here, but we are here with a purpose," senior Alexa Richardson said. "We are going to take each match like we have the entire season and do what we came here to do which is win."
The Hatters and Trojans will be meeting for the second time this season. USC defeated Stetson 4-1 in Los Angeles back on March 7. Southern Cal leads the all-time series 6-0.
Here is the Hatters' expected lineup:
Pair 1: Sunniva Helland-Hansen and Carly Perales
Pair 2: Darby Dunn and Sammee Thomas
Pair 3: Ana Costa and Rachel Noble
Pair 4: Samantha Harris and Julie Varga
Pair 5: Quinci Birker and Rebecca Ingram
The Stetson-USC winner will advance to play the winner of the LSU-Pepperdine match at 4 p.m. ET Friday, while the loser faces an elimination match at 2 p.m. ET Friday. The championship continues through Sunday.
Also joining the field are UCLA, Florida State, Cal Poly, and Hawai'i.
ESPNU will televise Friday's matches, while ESPN2 and ESPN will broadcast the event on Saturday and Sunday.
In addition, live streaming coverage of every court in each match of the tournament will be available on ESPN3.
- Stetson is making its second appearance in the NCAA Championship. The Hatters were also selected as the No. 8 seed in 2016. Stetson fell 3-0 to No. 1 FSU and fell 3-2 to No. 4 UCLA.
- Seniors Alexa Richardson, Samantha Harris, Julie Varga, and Rachel Noble are the four Hatters making their second trip to the NCAA Championship.
- Stetson won the ASUN Conference Championship for the third consecutive season and for the fifth time in school history.
- The Hatters have won a school-record 13 matches in a row and have outscored their opponents 52-12 in duals during that stretch. Stetson went 12-0 in the month of April.
- Stetson has defeated 11 ranked opponents for the first time in school history including three Top 10 opponents.
- ASUN Pair of the Year and ASUN Pair of the Tournament Darby Dunn and Sammee Thomas are 30-7 on the season. Their 30 victories is the second-highest total for any pair in the NCAA (LSU 1 seed).
- Rachel Noble is the program's all-time wins leader with 94 dual match victories.
- USC (201) and Stetson (169) are likely the two winningest programs in collegiate beach volleyball history.
- Follow @StetsonBeach on twitter and @StetsonBeachVB on Instragram for the latest updates during the tournament.