Back to back:
USC’s Abril Bustamante and Tina Graudina were the 2018 VolleyballMag.com national college beach pair of the year.
This year, they went 33-2 and — it was unanimous among our voters — Bustamante, the 6-foot senior from Redondo Beach, Calif., and Graudina, a 6-foot sophomore from Jurmala, Latvia, are the VBM national pair of the year for 2019.
They lead our 2019 NCAA All-American teams, which includes five first-teamers, five second-teamers and five honorable mentions, and the national coach and freshman of the year.
Our national coach of the year is UCLA’s Stein Metzger and the national freshman of the year is UCLA’s Abby Van Winkle, who had the kill that clinched the NCAA title for the Bruins.
Bustamante and Graudina won their last 15 matches this season.
“They dominated all year long,” said Loyola Marymount coach John Mayer, one of our voters. “Bustamante and Graudina are two physical players who have all the skills. Graudina was the best blocker in the country.”
The first team also includes two pairs from UCLA, which beat USC in the National Collegiate Beach Championship final match, one from LSU and one from Hawai’i. But none stood out like Bustamante and Graudina.
“When you watch them play, you’re watching a team that could medal in an FIVB at the college level,” said Travis Mewhirter, a pro beach player and contributor to VBM. “ As a defender, Abril is 6-0, as physical as any other blocker. They’re able to sustain a high level of play from their physical level and ball control alone.”
Also on the first team — we chose five pairs for the first team and five more for the second — are UCLA’s Megan and Nicole McNamara and Sarah Sponcil and Lily Justine, LSU’s Claire Coppola and Kristen Nuss, and Hawai’i’s Emily Maglio and Amy Ozee.
The McNamaras and the LSU pair were also first-teamers for us last year, while Maglio also made it with former teammate Ka’iwi Schuct. Sponcil and Justine made our 2018 second team.
Between the first and second teams and honorable mentions there are 11 schools represented.
The panel was split on the top coach, but Metzger took the nod after UCLA went 35-3 and repeated as NCAA champions. Metzger was also the 2018 VBM coach of the year. His team won its first 25 matches this season, battled hard with USC the rest of the way, and ultimately prevailed in the title match.
“Under Stein, UCLA spent the entire season until the final week of conference play ranked at No. 1 where the Bruins were the target of everyone’s best game,” said Holly McPeak, the former beach great and current TV analyst who was one of our voters. “After faltering in the Pac-12 championship, the Bruins arrived in Gulf shores and sandblasted the competition.”
USC’s Anna Collier finished a close second in the voting. Her Trojans went from 27-14 in 2018 to 32-6 in 2019. Their national ranking rose from seventh in 2018 to second in 2019.
Van Winkle went 22-5 at the No. 3 position, 5-0 at No. 4. The 6-2 product of San Clemente, Calif., was the only freshman to crack UCLA’s starting lineup at the beginning of the season.