HERMOSA BEACH, California — One mustn’t take into consideration pink elephants.
Difficult factor, that. As soon as somebody mentions one thing as peculiar as a pink elephant, how are you supposed to consider the rest? Think about the problem, then, of Delaynie Maple, Megan Kraft, and USC Seashore Volleyball coach Dain Blanton, solely as an alternative of a pink elephant, this one is parading round in garnet and gold. It’s the one factor they mustn’t take into consideration, and but it’s what’s on the collective NCAA Seashore Volleyball thoughts, the proverbial elephant on the seashore: Can USC win 4 straight NCAA Championships?
Such a feat has by no means been carried out earlier than within the younger sport, which celebrates its ninth yr as an official member of the NCAA. The one volleyball athlete Blanton may recall ever beginning 4 straight years and amassing an NCAA Championship in all 4 of them is Ricci Luyties, the wildly athletic setter for UCLA who ran the desk from 1981-84.
This Might, Kraft and Maple can turn into the second and third.
However pondering of such issues does no good. Even Maple’s mother and father will catch themselves when bringing it up in dialog with their daughter.
“My mother and father will carry it up after which lower themselves off,” Maple said. “I strive not to consider it. I attempt to simply take into consideration every day as a result of if you consider it too lengthy you’d simply go loopy about it. That’s one thing I’ve tried to do the previous few years will not be to consider it till the week of since you simply construct it up approach an excessive amount of in your head as a result of it will be so cool to go 4 for 4 however there’s so many steps you should take to get there.”
Because it goes with any national-championship aspirations, the steps, certainly, are many, although not practically that of 2023. USC was thought of — and that is nonetheless a wierd sentence to write down — one thing of an underdog coming into 2023. As a lot as a back-to-back NCAA Champion will be thought of an underdog, anyway. The Trojans had misplaced 13 of their 24 whole gamers, a listing that included soon-to-be AVP champions in Julia Scoles and Hailey Harward; Tina Graudina, a blocker who had competed in an Olympic Video games; and a consummate winner in Sammy Slater, amongst others.
“It was positively a unique fall,” Maple mentioned final winter.
Totally different fall, identical spring consequence: A number of Trojans sprinting into the teal Gulf of Mexico, celebrating their most sudden NCAA title up to now.
“Final yr was a grind,” Kraft mentioned. “We weren’t sweeping groups, we have been squeaking by 3-2 a whole lot of the time. We didn’t expertise that quite a bit freshman and sophomore yr. It wasn’t fairly as shut of a match. Having that final season gave us the idea that if it’s shut we will nonetheless win.”
Certainly, 14 of their 37 matches have been determined 3-2, triple that of the earlier two seasons mixed. And but, as USC is wont to do, it gained lots, claiming 32 of 37 matches, together with the 4 that mattered most, in Gulf Shores, Alabama. How have been the ultimate two determined? 3-2, after all.
It’s no accident, no a easy stroke of excellent fortune, that Blanton, and Anna Collier earlier than him, continues to recruit gamers who arrive not merely ready to play, however ready to win. When Maple and Kraft enrolled for his or her debut seasons in 2021, already proving they might end fifth on the AVP Tour, they did so wanting not all that completely different from the ladies who had already claimed Nationwide Championships of their very own. Maple completed 26-3 beginning on courtroom 4 whereas Kraft, largely one courtroom one with Graudina, gained 30 of her 33 matches.
“USC was so lucky to get these two collectively,” Blanton mentioned of Kraft and Maple. “They performed collectively at Torrey Pines, gained a state championship collectively, and I don’t assume folks perceive how necessary it’s, the mentality of being a winner, being a champion, when you may recruit somebody who already has that sort of mentality. It makes it simpler for everybody round them.”
It’s a nod to Blanton’s recruiting as a lot as it’s to the management of the ladies who preceded Maple and Kraft and people who will succeed them once they turn into alumni. Maple can nonetheless recall, as if it occurred yesterday, a apply her freshman season. She hit a lower shot, a superbly positioned lower shot with first rate tempo, but Graudina had already pulled into that actual shot, patiently awaiting what, to Maple, felt like a well-disguised assault.
“We study a lot from Dain and [assistant coach] Gustavo [Rocha] however we additionally study a lot from them,” Maple mentioned of her teammates. “Tina knew that I used to be doing earlier than I did it. I requested her how she knew that, and choosing their brains as a result of they see volleyball at such a unique stage, and studying from them was one of many largest issues I used to be capable of do these first two years. I realized every part I’ve been making an attempt to show this workforce from them.
“I used to be getting so humbled however I’m getting so a lot better as a result of I’m getting demolished by these older gamers. I haven’t been part of a bunch the place one by 22 wish to play, wish to be part of one thing, wish to make it such a particular yr. Yearly we begin from scratch. Although we’ve had an identical consequence, each tradition has been tremendous completely different which I believe is de facto cool, seeing what works for folks.”
The tradition this yr isn’t a lot completely different as it’s doubled-down upon. Whether it is winners Blanton seeks to recruit, he has them in spades. As he has carried out his complete profession at USC, he once more hit the switch portal lottery, hauling in Molly Phillips, a two-time Nationwide Champion at Texas as an outdoor hitter; Ainsley Radell, a four-year starter at Cal; Grace Seits, who went 26-10 for LSU’s courtroom two in 2023; Maddi Kriz, an All-Pac-12 First Staff starter for Stanford; and one other 6-foot-plus indoor switch in Emily Fitzner, who comes by means of Indiana. Freshman Ashley Pater, like Maple and Kraft earlier than her, has already confirmed her means to win on the skilled stage, with three AVP Professional or Gold Collection most important attracts to her title.
“We wish to play nice volleyball and if I recruit the suitable gamers and I can get them to succeed in their potential, the rating takes care of itself,” Blanton mentioned. “I don’t shrink back from it. We now have championship shirts, rings, however we don’t make it the point of interest. An important factor is recognizing it’s a new season, there are new gamers, and also you don’t wish to discuss how that is the best way we do it, that is the way it’s carried out, as a result of each workforce is completely different. We misplaced 12 gamers previous to final season, we’ll lose in all probability 8 to 10 this season. It’s a revolving door, school athletics. It’s important to take a look at it yr by yr. If you happen to begin previous years, it gained’t assist you.”
It will be undeniably cool for Maple and Kraft, to complete their careers at USC with a sweep of NCAA Championships. However enthusiastic about that garnet and gold elephant gained’t assist them any greater than regaling tales of championships previous.
“Lots of us try to benefit from our final yr,” Maple mentioned. “I really feel like every single day we discuss it, the way you wish to be current, how in three months from now we’re going to be USC alumni.”
Probably probably the most adorned USC alumni in historical past,
However we mustn’t take into consideration that.