SARATOGA, Calif. – Long Beach City College has had a years of firsts during the 2017 women’s beach volleyball season. It’s first-year program with a first-time college beach volleyball coach – albeit a three-time Olympic gold medalist – that earned a berth in their first California Community College Women’s Beach Volleyball Team Championship.
Now the Vikings can add “first-time pairs champions” as well after fourth-seeded Sarah Miller (Muscogee Creek Nation) and Paige Panter turned back upset-minded Michelle Shimamoto and Micah Hammond of El Camino, who were seeded 27th, to claim the CCCAA Championship during a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon at West Valley College.
“It’s very exciting,” said Miller, a sophomore from Long Beach. “I’m really happy that we pulled out the win together as a team. I love working with (Paige).”
Panter, a freshman from Southlake, Texas, said the victory was the culmination of hard work that’s enveloped the pair since the start of the season.
“The whole season really, really built up to this moment,” she said. “It’s a really exciting thing for the both of us.”
Misty May-Treanor, who teamed with Kerri Walsh Jennings to win Olympic gold in 2004, 2008 and 2012, brought instant credibility as head coach for the new Long Beach City program this year, and the team’s accomplishments, which culminated with a pairs title on Sunday, elevated it even more.
“It’s very exciting to put Long Beach City on the map,” said May, the director or volleyball at Long Beach City, “because looking at this tournament overall, our pairs were solid and even (finishing) second in the state (as a team), I feel like if you put us on paper, not a lot of people would’ve expected us to be here.
“I’m very excited for these young ladies,” she added. “I’m very proud of them.”
The road to the championship, which is just in third year being sponsored by the CCCAA, was a grueling one for Miller and Panter, who played three times in the team championship on Friday before hitting the sand for two matches on Saturday and the final three on Sunday.
“It’s been a long weekend, that’s for sure, but it was exciting” Panter said.
The Vikings duo were only stretched to a third set once in their title quest. They opened with a 21-12, 21-10 victory over Claire Gerard and Courtney Borja of Gavilan and then won 21-10, 21-12 over Janessa Simentel and Madison Wright of Ventura in the round of 16.
That set up their three-match run on Sunday that started with a close, but still another, straight-set win in the quarterfinals when they ousted Madeleine Alper and Maile Sellers of MiraCosta, 22-20, 23-21. That delivered them into the semifinal round where they faced their stiffest test against Kianna Niu and Brittany Michell of Palomar.
Miller and Panter opened the match with a 21-16 win in the first set but were dropped 21-13 in the second. However, they were able to rebound in convincing fashion for a 15-7 victory in the decisive third set.
The championship match was sure to be a tough one, especially considering the battle-tested Shimamoto and Hammond were coming off a come-from-behind, three-set win (10-21, 21-19, 15-12) win over Kat Wright and Flavia Virgili of San Diego Mesa in their semifinal matchup That was also their only match where they were forced to a third set after they rolled to straight-set wins prior to that.
The sets were close in the final but Miller and Panter were able to post identical 21-18 scores in each set, recording their program’s historic championship.
The milestone win provides an early marker for the Vikings, who are coached by one of the most recognizable names in beach volleyball history.
“She’s phenomenal, she’s so awesome,” Panter said of May-Treanor. “She’s an amazing coach. I learned so much in (just) one season.”
Treanor said Miller and Panter worked hard all season to win the championship.
“They’ve had to learn some things but they’ve battled and they’ve really been a pleasure to work with.”