After all that happened in the previous year, 2021 turned out to be an amazing year for NCAA beach volleyball, with an abundance of storylines.
There was the COVID eligibility extension, which allowed teams to accumulate more experience than ever before.
There was Tina Graudina, the first player to qualify for the Olympics while competing in college beach.
There was LSU, who attained the top ranking in the AVCA poll for the first time ever in 2020, only to be denied a championship opportunity due to COVID.
There was back-to-back NCAA champion UCLA, trying to three-peat for the first time in history, ultimately defeated by USC.
There was Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, who built an undefeated 36-0 record, and there were three new teams in the NCAA championship field, Loyola Marymount, Stanford, and TCU.
LSU garnered both Player of the Year (Nuss) and Pair of the Year (Nuss and Kloth) honors, while John Mayer of LMU is our Coach of the Year. USC’s Megan Kraft is the VolleyballMag.com Freshman of the Year.
“2021 was a year of grit and perseverance, with limited fall training, cutbacks in weight room time, and travel restrictions,” said CollegeBVB.com’s Mike Placek, one of our All-American voters. “We saw a lot of parity and exciting 3-2 dual finishes.
“The level of play at the NCAA Championships was higher than ever, and I can’t wait to see how the 2022 season will unfold.”
Our All-American voters were coaches Derek Olson (Cal), Rita Buck-Crockett (FIU), Kristina Hernandez (Stetson); and media members Holly McPeak (Pac-12 and ESPN), Placek (CollegeBVB.com), and Rob Espero (VolleyballMag.com and the Viral Volley Podcast).
VolleyballMag.com First Team
1 — Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth, LSU
2 — Tina Graudina and Megan Kraft, USC
3 — Savvy Simo and Lexy Denaburg, UCLA
4 — Torrey Van Winden and Keara Rutz, Florida State
5 — Reka Orsi Toth and Selina Marolf, LMU
1 — Daniela Alvarez/Tania Mateeva, TCU
2 — Julia Scoles and Sammy Slater, USC
3 — Alaina Chacon and Maddie Anderson, Florida State
4 — Erica Brok and Mackenzie Morris, FAU
5 — Emily Sonny and Macy Gordon, Cal Poly
1 — Federica Frasca and Roberta Ribiero, FIU
2 — Sunny Villapando and Xolani Hodel, Stanford
3 — Skylar Allen and Katie Smith, South Carolina
4 — Allanis Navas and Paula Hoffman, Grand Canyon
5 — Rileigh Powers and Jaden Whitmarsh, UCLA
Mima Mirkovic and Carolina Schafer (Cal), Carly Skjodt and Melanie Paul (Pepperdine), Lindsey Sparks and Abby Van Winkle (UCLA), Abbie Hughes and Paige Kalkhoff (FIU), Audrey Nourse and Nicole Nourse (USC), Megan Muret and Jacqueline Quade (UCLA), Olivia Blackburn and Hailey Brockett (TCU), Haley Hallgren and Hailey Harward (USC), Tia Miric and Mariah Whalen (Cal Poly), Jordan Polo and Ainsley Radell (Cal).
The picks were distributed throughout the NCAA field, illustrating the depth in the beach game. USC and UCLA each landed two picks, with LSU, FSU, LMU, TCU, FAU, Cal Poly, Stanford, South Carolina, and GCU each receiving one.
Ten other pairs received votes, including pairs from Cal and Pepperdine.
Nuss and Kloth dominated the voting. Four panelists selected Nuss for Player of the Year, while the other two selected Kloth.
Three-time beach volleyball Olympian McPeak thinks Nuss is ready to take the next step into the professional arena.
“Kristen Nuss is a special athlete,” McPeak said. “She did not grow up playing the sport but learned it quickly. The way she reads the game, and her quick first step set her apart. I love that she is undersized but plays big and jumps really well.
“She is an inspiration to all the smaller players and as well as the bigger ones! I can’t wait to see what she does at the pro level.”
Nuss and Kloth went 36-0 at No. 1. Nuss, a product of New Orleans, is the winningest player in college beach volleyball history with 139 total career victories. She won her last 48 matches for LSU.
Kloth, who is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and played four years indoors for Creighton before transferring to Baton Rouge, incredibly never lost a beach match in college. Kloth went 14-0 on LSU’s Court 4 in 2020 before teaming with Nuss this season after they played together last summer.
“Nuss is the engine of the team because she can side out, but I feel Kloth is just in a different level of a college beach player physically,” FIU’s Buck-Crockett said.
“Kloth is going to terminate most of the time, and block most of the offensive plays from the other team. What she doesn’t block, Nuss defends and most of the time will terminate. They are a very strong team.”
Cal coach Olson said they have no notable weaknesses.
“I think their record speaks for itself … they are the real deal. They have size at the net and speed behind it,” Olson said. “Offensively it is like picking your poison. Nuss’ vision is the best I’ve seen at this level.”
Sixth-year LMU coach Mayer had significant competition for Coach of the Year, with Stanford’s Andrew Fuller, USC’s Dain Blanton, and UCLA’s Stein Metzger receiving votes.
Mayer, whose Lions won the West Coast Conference, earned his first coach of the year award after leading the program to its first national-championship appearance, where LMU upset No. 4 LSU and No. 1 UCLA, ultimately finishing third.
LMU finished 31-8 for the coach, a former beach volleyball pro who has four AVP and two FIVB wins to his credit.
“John did an amazing job with his LMU team this year,” Stetson’s Hernandez said. “They had a solid regular season and were the lowest seed to ever make it to championship Sunday.
“There were a lot of great teams this year but he deserves a lot of credit for getting that group to that point.”
USC’s Kraft got five of the six votes for Freshman of the Year.
The product of Torrey Pines High School in San Diego went 14-1 with Graudina as USC’s top pair. Kraft began the season with Haley Hallgren at No. 3, but soon found herself at the top slot, finishing the year 30-3.
VBM contributor Espero was impressed with Kraft’s development throughout the year.
“Megan Kraft came in with athletic ability, an incredible skill-set, great mechanics, a high volleyball IQ and the ability to learn the game,” Espero said. “With the coaching style of Dain Blanton, an Olympic-caliber partner in Tina Graudina, she developed into one of the top 10 players in NCAA Division I collegiate beach volleyball.”