Before Stein Metzger uttered a word about his own team, his back-to-back NCAA-champion UCLA Bruins, he began discussing Loyola Marymount.
“The Lions,” he said, “are getting good, and fast.”
Just how good, and how fast, will be determined Thursday morning at UCLA in the college beach volleyball season opener. In a weekend replete with intriguing matchups, this may hold the most interest. LMU, No. 8 in our VolleyballMag.com preseason rankings and perhaps the fastest-rising team in college beach volleyball — No. 6 Cal Poly also has an argument here — will match up with the two-time national champs that lost five linchpin seniors to last year’s historic team.
Does it get any more enticing than that? For a dual, no less?
“They’ve been putting in the work this semester so it’ll be fun to test ourselves right off the bat,” said Betsi Flint, who is now in a full-time assistant coaching capacity with LMU. “(UCLA) had some depth last year. I think they’ll still be pretty good.”
Just how good will remain to be seen not just on Thursday, but likely until midway through the season. But this weekend will certainly be a test for the Bruins, and virtually every other top 20 team in the nation.
After hosting LMU at their new beach facility, the Bruins will rinse off and head to LAX, where they’ll board a flight to Honolulu, Hawai’i, for the SandBows’ annual season-opening Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Beach Classic.
At Queen’s Beach, Hawai’i will host top-ranked UCLA, an always-dangerous Stanford program, and one of the east’s two big powers in No. 3 LSU.
“To me, you have to beat the best to win the whole thing, but still, it’s like ‘Gosh, you’re going to play the defending national champions the first day out?’” Hawai’i coach Jeff Hall said. “It’s wide open and the field is wide open. UCLA is the favorite again but they lost some pieces and USC lost some pieces and they’re kind of rebuilding and it’s a new staff and Pepperdine will always be what they are but they lost some players and us too. It’s really an open season of who is going to take this thing and there will be changes.”
No. 5 Florida State, from where I’ll be reporting from this weekend, is hosting a similarly loaded tournament. Descending upon Tallahassee will be 10th-ranked Stetson, Houston Baptist, Louisiana-Monroe, TCU, Cal Poly, No. 11 South Carolina, and Tampa.
“It should be interesting how people place their lineups this year because it is so wide open,” Florida State coach Brooke Niles said. “When beach volleyball first started, I feel like some people put their best players in different spots so I’m wondering if that’s going to happen this year. There’s not going to be that guaranteed win across the board. I’m curious to see that first weekend and what everyone looks like.”
Other notable events:
- On Friday, No. 4 Pepperdine will travel to Irvine Valley College for its season-opener.
- On Friday and Saturday, the University of North Florida will play host to Georgia State, No. 9 Florida International, Mercer, and Florida Atlantic.
- On Friday and Saturday, Arizona’s Cactus Classic will feature Boise State, Missouri State, and San Francisco.
- On Saturday, St. Mary’s will be home for No. 12 Cal and Grand Canyon.
- On Saturday and Sunday, San Jose State will be hosting its first competition at the newly-opened Spartan Beach Courts at the South Campus Athletics Complex. The Spartans are home for Ottawa, Santa Clara, Oregon, UC Davis, and Grand Canyon.
- No. 2 USC will not begin play until next weekend, when it travels to South Carolina.