NCAA beach begins Friday on blustery Gulf Shores

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South Carolina coach Moritz Moritz after practice Thursday/Kamp Fender for Gamecock Athletics

GULF SHORES, Ala. — California top-heavy?

A handful of schools will have the chance to dispel that notion when the National Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship begins Friday.

The top three seeds are from California, defending-champion and No. 1 seed USC, second-seeded UCLA and No. 3 Pepperdine. Long Beach State is the sixth seed.

Also in the field are fourth-seeded Florida State, which played USC in last year’s championship match, No. 5 Hawai’i, No. 7 LSU and No. 8 South Carolina.

The first five of Friday’s eight matches can be seen at NCAA.com. The last three, including an elimination match and two winners-bracket second-round matches, will be show on TruTV with Anne Marie Anderson on the play-by-play and Holly McPeak giving analysis.

The weather is expected to be better Friday than Thursday, when practices were delayed four hours because of nasty rainstorms. And then during practice, the winds were fierce and unpredictable. While the sun should shine Friday, the wind will blow.

LSU, making its first NCAA appearance, is the closest thing to a home team. Baton Rouge is just less than four hours drive to the West.

“I’ve played in Gulf Shores before in junior tournaments and in a junior tournament where it was pretty windy. So I’ve played in wind like this a few times,” said Kristin Nuss, an LSU freshman from New Orleans.

“It’s pretty crazy,” she added with a laugh. “It’s about getting the ball into the court and over the net and controlling the ball.”

UCLA sophomore Nicole McNamara has only played here once, but last year the Bruins saw some wild winds during the tournament.

“It’s definitely frustrating because you can’t play the style you’re used to,” she admitted. “But it’s fun because you get a chance to do some weird things.”

No. 1 USC (34-1) vs. No. 8 South Carolina (23-9), 9 a.m. Central: If the USC from Columbia, S.C. wins, it would be the greatest upset in the short history of the college game. The teams played earlier this season the Trojans won in five at South Carolina. Worth noting, the USC No. 1 pair of Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes repeated as the Pac-12 pair of the year.

Florida State huddles up after practice on Gulf Shores/FSU photo
Florida State huddles up after practice on Gulf Shores/FSU photo

No. 4 Florida State (27-2) vs. No. 5 Hawai’i (25-5), 10 a.m. Central: This one should be worth the price of admission. FSU won their only meeting this season 3-2 in Honolulu in mid-March. FSU has played in all five previous events here, the first four as the AVCA championship and then last year’s inaugural NCAA event.

Hawai’i, which goes by the Sandbows, lost to FSU in the second round here last year.

No. 2 UCLA (29-4) vs No. 7 LSU (26-6), 11 a.m. Central: LSU was likely the last team out last year, but the Tigers have been a tough out this year, losing only to UCLA 3-2 in March and also to Florida State, Florida Atlantic, USC, Long Beach and, in the CCSA tournament to Florida International, which broke a 26-match winning streak.

UCLA ended USC’s 62-match winning streak last week in the Pac-12 tournament, its first win ever over USC. For that matter, the Bruins’ four losses were to USC three times and to Pepperdine.

No. 3 Pepperdine (24-3) vs. No. 6 Long Beach State (25-8), noon Central: The Waves lost to USC, Hawai’i and Florida State. They beat Long Beach State 3-2 in early March and then again 3-2 a month ago, so expect a tough battle Friday.

USC-USC, Moritz Moritz: Both school’s go by USC. But why two names that are the same? The fourth-year head coach of the other USC, South Carolina, explained that his names are his mother’s maiden name. When he was born, her name went on the birth certificate and his parents never married.

“A lot of people tell me I should change it,” Moritz Moritz said with a laugh, “but no.”

The product of Pacific Palisades, Calif., is obviously thrilled to have his Gamecocks in the field for the first time. The bad news is they got USC first.

“You have to play the best and there are no easy teams,” Moritz said. “Whether it’s USC or UCLA or any of the teams in the field, it’s going to be a challenge. We’re fortunate that we have played USC already this year so we have some idea of what we’re up against. We absolutely have to play our best volleyball.

“We’re here and now we’re going to compete.”

Brooke Niles due in June: Neither the Seminoles coach nor husband Nick Lucena know the sex of her second child. Their first, Gunnar, just turned 4.

Lucena is at AVP Huntington Beach this week. Niles, a former pro herself, played nine events during the first 12 weeks of her last pregnancy.

This time around, “I don’t feel as great as last time, but my lifestyle is a little bit different.”

Stress is not a problem, she said.

“You prepare them and do as much as you can, so I don’t really get stressed,” Niles said. “Let them have their experiences and I try to help when I can. I don’t want to stress myself out.”

Collegiate Beach pairs: USA Volleyball has announced the 24 women’s and 12 men’s pairs that will compete in the USA Volleyball Collegiate Beach Championships May 11-13 at Hermosa Beach Pier.

Quite a few players in this tournament have been invited.

There are four pairs from USC, including Claes and Hughes, Teresa Cannon and Nicolette Martin, Abril Bustamante and Joy Dennis, and Jenna Belton and Joy Kremer.

Pepperdine also has four in Delaney Knudsen and Madalyn Roh, Corinne Quiggle and Brittany Howard, Skylar Caputo and Heidi Dyer, and Anika Wilson and Deahna Kraft.

There are two from LSU, Claire Coppola and Nuss and Olivia Powers and Katie Lindelow.

UCLA has Kamila Tan and Jordan Anderson and Elise Zappia and Madi Yeomans.

Also in the field are Florida State’s Leigh Andrew and Brooke Kuhlman and Victoria Paranagua and Vanessa Freire, Long Beach State’s Rachel Nieto and Kobi Pekich, and South Carolina’s Katie Smith and Adrianna Culbert, and Macie Tendrich and Katie Zimmerman.

The event serves as an official Team USA Trials compeition, so participants are limited to U.S. citizens.

Click here for the USA Volleyball story and complete list of players.

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