The No. 2 ranked USC women’s sand volleyball team will kick off the program’s third official season on Thursday against TCU at Merle Norman Stadium.Last season the Women of Troy started to make a name for themselves as a team to be reckoned with by being ranked number one for most of the season. They defeated several ranked teams including Pepperdine, Florida State and crosstown rival UCLA.Going into the American Volleyball coaches Association championships ranking No. 1, the Women of Troy lost to No. 2 Pepperdine in the semi-finals, with a score of 3-2. They finished the season with a record of 23-3, which is seven more wins than they had in the 2013 season. This season, however, head coach Anna Collier has the team thinking in a new perspective after the tough loss in the semi-finals last year.“We get so locked up in wanting to win a championship,” Collier said. “We took a different philosophy this year in that we just want to play better, match by match, week by week, tournament by tournament and then see what the results are.”Last year, AVCA all-American then-freshman Sara Hughes led the team with her partner then senior Kirby Burnham, setting a combined record of 42-4 including dual and tournament play. This pairing also won the AVCA Pairs National Championship, defeating Hawaii’s pairing of Karissa Cook and Brittany Tiegs in two sets. Last season, Hughes had a hitting percentage of .477, 261 digs and 50 service aces.After making it to the AVCA semi-finals back to back, the Women of Troy are locked in and ready to make a serious push to win a team national championship. The pairings are very deep from the first pair down to the fifth pair and they all have the ability to play win their matches. The team has also received several transfers including graduate student Meg Norton, freshman Jo Kremer and sophomore Sophie Bukovec.Now a sophomore, Hughes still is the leader of the team, and she has been improving her game during the offseason.“I have worked really hard in the weight room and in conditioning,” Hughes said. “The extra conditioning in the weight room has improved my speed and jump in the sand and I can get to more balls defensively.”Hughes will be in the No. 1 pair but with a new partner this time with fellow sophomore Kelly Claes.With such a deep team, a pairing that could be the season’s dark horse is senior Eve Ettinger and Norton. Both have been making big improvements on the court and they have finally started to click. They will either be the third or fourth pairing.The Women of Troy will host TCU, Florida State and Loyola Marymount at Merle Norman Stadium to kick off the regular season on Thursday. This is the first year for TCU’s program but Florida State and Loyola Marymount have been strong competition for the Women of Troy. Bukovec, who transferred to USC from the indoor volleyball team at Long Beach State, thinks this will be a great test early on in the season for the team.“We should match up well against these teams,” Bukovec said. “We have been training really hard for the past few months and each day we have been getting better and more competitive. It will be nice to play at home with a crowd.”Both Florida State and Loyola Marymount are loaded with upperclassman who have been consistently playing year round. While Florida State returns only senior Jace Pardon from their top pair, Loyola returns both senior Litara Keil and senior Betsi Metter to their top pair. The Women of Troy will have an advantage in the middle pairings, where they were dominant last season.This season will be extremely grueling for the Women of Troy, however, as they will be playing Pepperdine, Hawaii and Florida State, all ranked in the top five. Nonetheless, the teams hopes to start the season on a high note with wins over No. 3 Florida State and No. 6 Loyola Marymount.First serve for the Women of Troy’s match against TCU is scheduled for 5 p.m.