Champions of Troy

USC Marshall graduate student and beach volleyball champ Sara Hughes signs with Nike...and walks with her MSEI cohort

May 07, 2018

Sara Hughes just did it.

The USC Marshall alumna and champion athlete who spiked USC to world dominance in college beach volleyball, just signed a long-term contract with Nike.

“That’s just a dream come true for me,” she says.

The milestone puts her one step closer to her ultimate goal: A spot in the sand for the 2020 Olympic women’s beach volleyball team.

That Hughes has her eye on the long-game should surprise no one. She’s been setting records with her athleticism, discipline and grit since she was very small.

“I wish the PSI had been here when I was an undergraduate. I never quite found my perfect fit in my business classes until the PSI, and it was like I found my home. I am fascinated with the study of mindset.” -- Sara Hughes MSEI '18 and national beach volleyball champion

Now, about to walk with a graduate degree from USC Marshall’s Master’s of Entrepreneurship and Innovation program, she’s dividing her time between her training schedule and finishing research on the athletic mindset for the Performance Science Institute.

The PSI is a multi-disciplinary center that teaches and studies the high-performance mindset. Hughes was one of the first recipients of its Performance Science Scholarship when the Institute officially launched in November of 2017.

“Working with Sara is a joy. Whereas we focus on teaching the science of high performance, she is a true practitioner, someone who strives beyond reason and loves competing at the highest levels,” says Dr. Glenn Fox, who leads the PSI and has worked closely with Hughes.

“I wish the PSI had been here when I was an undergraduate here at Marshall,” says Hughes. “I never quite found my perfect fit in my business classes until the PSI, and it was like I found my home. I am fascinated with the study of mindset.”

Her athletic record backs her up.

As the three-time team captain of USC’s Women’s Beach Volleyball team she brought home the national championship all four years and has the rings to prove it. She’s won two NCAA titles, and can boast a record 103-match winning streak between her sophomore and junior years.  

In 2017, her first year as a professional after graduating, Hughes finished the AVP with a win in Chicago. She and her partner (beach volleyball is played in pairs), had 4 Top 10 finishes in international FIVB events. Hughes was named the FIVB Rookie of the Year

The next goal? Compete and amass the points necessary for favorable seedings in the international tournaments that are part of the Olympic Qualifications system.

She was fresh off 24-hours of travel, returning from the FIVB, Xiamen, a four-star event in China, when she agreed to be interviewed about her Nike signing. There are many other such point-building tournaments planned before the Olympic team is chosen in 2019-2020.

A Volleyball Family

Hughes, born in Long Beach and raised in Costa Mesa, is from a volleyball family. Her mom played volleyball. Her dad, all 6 feet 6 of him, plays everything else.  As the baby of the family (older sister Lauren and older brother Conner are athletes as well), she’s been playing beach volleyball since she was 8 years old.

As a volleyball player at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, she lettered each of her four years and was named female athlete of the year in 2013.

A lot of schools wanted her. But she made headlines when she announced she wanted to compete as a beach player and USC awarded her its first four-year beach volleyball scholarship.

But she was going to be a Trojan anyway.

“I toured a lot of schools, but the minute I walked onto the USC Campus I knew I would come here,” she says. “I just felt it. I felt like I was home.”

She majored in business. “Not the easiest major when you’re an athlete,” she admits. But her father urged her to study something she could apply no matter where she went or what she did. In fact, it’s already paid off.

When she and her agent were at Nike Headquarters in Seattle, she found herself at ease in that world. “Business school taught me how to meet and talk with people,” she said.

And one day, she says, she might join that world. “I joined the MSEI program because I love entrepreneurship and I want to start my own venture one day. “ First, however, she’s got a few more years in the sand.