NCAA: Sophie Bukovec
Sophie Bukovec added to her already impressive resume by winning her third straight NCAA Beach Volleyball National Championships with the USC Trojans. Bukovec graduates USC with a degree in sociology where she was named to the Dean’s List and won a Marks Scholar Award. Sophie has also won two PAC 12 Championships and been named an All American twice. Her overall record at USC was 103-3.
Bukovec originally joined the NCAA as a member of the Long Beach State 49ers indoor volleyball team where she helped win the NCAA Big West Championships. Before joining the NCAA Sophie played one year in the OUA at McMaster University. That season Mac won the OUA Championships. Bukovec won the Final 4 MVP, McMaster Rookie of the Year and was a member of the OUA All Rookie Team and OUA First Team All Star. On the beach Bukovec won the 2014 FIVB U21 World Championships with Tia Miric and the 2013 Canada Games with Ali Wooley.
With so many accomplishments before she joined the Trojans it is impressive that Sophie continued to improve at such a high level, something she credits to the practice environment at USC. “Practice at USC, is unlike any practice that I have ever been apart of. My coaches and teammates have created the most competitive environment that is still all about the learning process. How those two can co-exist so perfectly at our practices, still blows my mind.”
The NCAA uses a best of 5 format for beach volleyball where each school ranks their teams 1 to 5 and you compete against the same ranked team from the other school. The first school to win 3 matches wins the dual. What some fans may not know is that teams can improve or lower their ranking based on exhibition matches against your teammates in practice. “Having 5 separate pairs within a team creates an interesting dynamic. If you want to move up in your seeding, you have to consistently beat the pair above you. That brings out the fire in my teammates every practice. Every person on my team hates to lose more than they like to win.” Add in the tradition of excellence at USC with guests such as April Ross and Misty May stopping by practice makes the environment at USC one of a kind. “It has created the best environment for me to train in, being such a competitive person. I feel like I have improved so much at USC. I have been able to spend years out of my comfort zone. “
Sophie isn’t the only international athlete to experience success in the NCAA. Canadians Megan and Nicole McNamara have experienced lots of success at UCLA. A total of seven international athletes competed at the 2017 National Championships. As the sport continues to grow in the NCAA look for more international stars to play their post-secondary careers in the NCAA. “The sport is growing so rapidly in the U.S, with phenomenal coaches developing programs and creating strong competitive athletes. Many of the players in these top schools have competed in AVP’s, NORCECA’s, at World Championships for their respective country and some FIVB’s.” For any Canadians interested in pursueing a NCAA scholarship for beach volleyball Bukovec offers the following advice. “It is definitely scary to drop everything that is familiar, and live in a completely new place for four years. But it is so worth it. You not only find yourself, but you will make long lasting memories and friendships that will stay with you for the rest of your lives. She also added “A big thing that I learned while playing NCAA is that, you have the choice to create an environment that is right for you. Where you feel like you can improve, feel safe, feel comfortable, where you will make some of the best memories of your life. It is okay not to know what you want right away, but it is worth exploring!”
This summer Sophie will play with Olympian Jamie Broder. The pair won the latest Volleyball Canada Norceca Trials, earning the the right to represent Canada at the upcoming Norceca events. The pair will also travel on the FIVB World Tour. “I have been lucky to have the opportunity to compete against some of the best beach athletes in the U.S every day at practice, which has definitely prepared me for the world tour. You learn to manage relationships, travel, prepare and compete which are all necessary to be successful on tour. I am excited to finally become a professional athlete and compete on the world tour.”