HERMOSA BEACH, California — There have been roughly 11,000 individuals surrounding court docket three in Gulf Shores, Alabama this previous spring. One other 200,000-plus have been tuning in on ESPN, all eyes on a single, NCAA Championship-deciding match. For NCAA seaside volleyball, there is no such thing as a larger platform. No bigger second. Audrey and Nicole Nourse have been within the place that Nicole describes as “each athletes’ dream, or it must be if you happen to play the game.”
They have been 15 factors away from securing an unprecedented third straight NCAA Championship for USC.
They didn’t discover.
To the Nourses in that second, it wasn’t a 2-2 break up between USC and UCLA, the 2 most dynastic forces within the sport. There wasn’t an NCAA Championship on the road. It was simply two sisters enjoying seaside volleyball. Nothing extra.
“That closing, I used to be in such a circulation state. I couldn’t hear the gang round me, I couldn’t hear something apart from my sister,” Nicole, the lefty who performs right-side, mentioned. “That’s type of precisely the place you need to be in that place. Generally it’s laborious to get there. Your thoughts is a muscle. You gotta work it. Fortunately we’ve carried out the preparation to really feel comfy in these moments.”
It’s no accident, no easy luck of timing, that the Nourses slipped into that circulation state once they wanted it most, when their teammates wanted them most, when historical past was doubtlessly within the making. Coaches, with hindsight in excellent 20/20 imaginative and prescient, will virtually all the time level to whichever crew sealed the win and say that there’s no person else they’d somewhat have on the market. Positive sufficient, that’s precisely what Dain Blanton mentioned on ESPN after the Nourses sealed up a 21-18, 19-21, 15-11 NCAA Championship-winning victory over Haley Hallgren and Rileigh Powers.
Cliche because it was that Blanton mentioned these phrases, you possibly can’t actually blame him, both.
The Nourses hadn’t misplaced in Gulf Shores in two years. In 2022, they didn’t even drop a set in 4 matches en path to a second straight NCAA Championship. Bodily, they’re gifted. No query about it. Two of the very best ball-control gamers within the nation who’ve been hand-setting since they have been 12, architecting their very own unfold offense in youth tournaments up and down California, tinkering with it to succeed in the very best ranges within the NCAA. However bodily presents solely get one up to now, particularly when your competitors consists of AVP essential draw gamers for a lot of the season.
What separates the Nourses is psychological.
“Such a focus of my life and particularly with how I strategy sports activities psychologically, I received to a spot the place I used to be grounded persistently once I play,” Nicole said. “As an athlete, you possibly can’t ask for something greater than that. If you happen to can attempt to get into that circulation state persistently and determine what grounds you, that was what I all the time needed. Each athlete desires that. I’ve slowly gotten a style of that.”
It’s a discovered trait, that psychological focus. The Nourses have been seeing a sports activities psychologist since they have been 16. Initially, that sports activities psych was extra relationship counselor than psychological coach “as a result of we knew we needed to play the game collectively for a very long time, however the one manner we have been going to that was if we have been in a position to resolve our variations,” mentioned Audrey, who’s the right-handed left-sider.
“What began as us attempting to determine what the opposite wants on the court docket, however over time we every have our personal points we undergo. For me, I discovered sure instruments I can carry out once I’m in a rut within the sport. She may not have the identical ones however you develop instruments that can assist you by that. At first it was powerful being susceptible as a result of we all the time thought we don’t want to speak to anybody. However the sport can get fairly heavy and we would have liked that outlet.”
It could get particularly heavy at a program corresponding to USC, which has lengthy been the standard-bearer within the sport. When longtime USC coach Anna Collier recruited the Nourses out of Orange Lutheran Excessive in Orange, California, they have been getting into a program that had already received three straight Nationwide Championships and would quickly produce Olympians (Kelly Cheng, Tina Graudina), World Championships medalists (Sophie Bukovec), and half a dozen AVP champions (Cheng, Graudina, Sara Hughes, Terese Cannon, Hailey Harward, Julia Scoles).
“We attempt to actually open up recruits’ eyes, like ‘Hey, you’re coming to play with elite athletes. In case you have an issue trying left and proper and seeing expertise, you’re most likely within the unsuitable place,’ ” Blanton said. “Because the years go by you begin to determine it out extra, who works in your squad and who doesn’t, who’s diehard, somebody you name and so they go ‘Oh my gosh! SC is looking!’ You need somebody who’s passionate, not somebody who’s weighing a number of completely different affords.”
The irony there’s that the Nourses greater than weighed different affords — they’d been dedicated to Stanford since their sophomore 12 months of highschool. At Stanford, they’d have been instant starters, two of the very best gamers on the roster. A dream to most recruits. For 2 years, it was. However USC remained “so attractive to us,” Audrey mentioned. “We needed to be in an surroundings that was very aggressive and we felt that was USC.”
The USC roster their red-shirt freshman 12 months — after the 2020 season was cancelled resulting from COVID — included one of many program’s all-time winningest gamers in three-time All-American Sammy Slater (118-31 profession file), Harward, Scoles, Graudina, and U19 World Champions in Delaynie Maple and Megan Kraft. At most packages within the nation, the Nourses would have competed on courts one or two. At USC? They have been on the 5 — simply the way in which they needed it.
“There’s strain, however I really feel prefer it’s extra about empowerment as a result of if you happen to get to USC, you’re meant to be there. At that time you don’t have anything else however to be your self,” Nicole mentioned. “The work ethic will communicate for itself. In case you have a robust work ethic and powerful skills, you’re naturally going to make use of these sources and extra. Everybody on our crew, it’s a privilege to play for USC.
“It’s a must to go in and be your self however you additionally should ask your self what you need out of the expertise. We don’t want a C on our chest to have a management function. Not essentially act like a captain. We knew our function. However it’s important to have the intention of leaving the place higher than you discovered it and carrying the tradition that was set earlier than you. That was the intention.”
This fall and spring, they are going to be two equivalent faces of this system, main alongside Maple and Kraft. The tradition that was set by Collier and sustained by Blanton? It’s one in every of three straight NCAA Championships, the one girls’s program in USC historical past to take action. The place such phases really feel regular.
“It actually felt like every other match. I felt so bizarre,” Nicole mentioned of the 2023 NCAA closing. “I used to be in shock after as a result of I don’t even know what occurred as a result of it felt so regular. It wasn’t this heightened factor.”
It was simply USC being USC.
The Nourse twins being the Nourse twins.