If Florida State had a men’s beach volleyball coach, it’s unlikely they would have recommended Jon Justice to peel from the net on Hawaii’s Brett Rosenmeier’s set to Colton Cowell, which was, if not a 50-50 ball, then at the most one foot off the net at the Bridgestone USA Volleyball Collegiate Beach Championships in Hermosa Beach, California.
Yet peel is exactly what Justice did, retreating to the back court and leaving Cowell an enormous chunk of beach to bury it. Just as Cowell had done so many times throughout the afternoon, he ripped a swing down the seam – and directly into the arms of Justice’s teammate, Seminole freshman Adam Wienckowski. The dig sprayed. Justice chased it down. Wienckowski put it back in.
Another set for Hawaii. Another peel. Another rocket. Another absurd dig. Back to Hawaii it went. Only this time, Rosenmeier threw a change-up, hitting a cut shot. Justice was there, making the dig, putting the transition ball away, tying the score at 10-10 in the third set.
Just another innocuous, everyday, totally normal point for the scrappy Seminoles, who are 6-foot and 6-foot-2, but, as Justice said, “6-foot-6 at heart.”
And it was with those 6-foot-6 hearts that they came back from down one set to none, from down 19-16 in the second set to win 28-26, from down 8-6 in the third on Saturday to win the title 15-21, 28-26, 15-12.
In winning, Justice and Wienckowski, and the women’s champions, Claire Coppola and Kristen Nuss of LSU, earned trips to Germany to represent the United States at the World University Championship in July.
The teams also helped kick off the 2018 Team USA Summer Champions Series presented by Xfinity, which continues with national championships in diving (May 13-20 in Dallas), track and field (June 21-24 in Des Moines, Iowa), and swimming (June 25-29 in Irvine, California).
“We just had that mentality,” said Justice, who trains with the Florida State women’s team and occasionally with Olympians Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena — a Florida State alum — when they are in the area. “We knew we could do it. We had confidence in our defense. We’re both small but we’re both really good defenders so we knew we could get a few real points. We just took it one point at a time and we were really aggressive with our blocks and our defense and knew, ‘Hey, if we get a dig, we gotta put it away.’ That was the mentality and we had to execute and we did.”
That same execution prevailed on match point as well. Up 14-12 in the third, Justice and Wienckowski each dug a ball before it was Justice who lofted it over the angle on an option, using the block just enough to seal the victory.
“That’s pretty much us,” Wienckowski said. “We don’t have the biggest blocks but we try to get what we can.”
Coppola and Nuss present a much different type of team than the men’s winners. Where Justice and Wienckowski were small and scrappy, with little blocking to show for it, Coppola and Nuss are a traditional team, with Coppola dominating the net, as she did in a 21-9 first-set win over Florida State’s Hailey Luke and Katie Horton, and Nuss patrolling for shots and swings, as she did so regularly during a commanding 15-8 final set.
Down 2-1 in the third, it was Nuss who put one away to tie it. Following a Florida State error, Nuss dug the next shot and killed the transition in the high angle, and then dug another and put that one away with a cut shot, and then dug the next and put it away with a seam swing.
A kill from Luke made it 6-3, but it was Nuss again who scored with a low line and again with a high-angle shot, pushing the lead to 8-3, which would be extended by another point with a Coppola block.
“We just did a good job sticking to our game,” Nuss said after the two sealed up a 21-9, 17-21, 15-8 victory.
“I’m just being big,” Coppola said, laughing, “and she’s sprinting everywhere on the court.”
It worked to near-perfection. Aside from a 21-17 loss in the second set, which is more a credit to excellent offensive play from Luke and Horton than it is a takeaway from Coppola and Nuss, they played nearly flawless volleyball.
“That’s just every day,” LSU coach Russell Brock said.
Indeed. As freshmen, Nuss and Coppola were named All-Americans after a 27-7 freshman season, and finished the year as the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association pair of the year.
Now they have extended their seasons just a bit further, representing not only LSU in Germany, but the United States of America.
“It’s so cool,” Coppola said. “We get to play together and for our country. Ecstatic.”
“Well I’ve never been out of the country before,” Nuss said. “So I’m super excited.”