After an active week six of NCAA beach volleyball, the field is beginning to show signs of parity.
Inroads were finally made into the top four of UCLA, USC, LSU, and Florida State as FIU upset FSU 3-2 at the FSU Beach Bash, snapping FSU’s 22-match home winning streak.
FIU coach Rita Buck-Crockett talked about her program beating FSU for the first time.
“We were able to take advantage of a very important opportunity as we continue our hunt for a national-championships bid,” Buck-Crockett said. “Being the only team outside of the ‘big four’ to win against one of them shows that we are one of the teams to strongly consider as a top eight nationally ranked team as well.”
Collectively, the top four are 61-1 against the remainder of the field.
We also saw some upsets at the Pac-12 North Invitational as Arizona teams took advantage of the 90-plus-degree heat.
No. 9 Arizona pulled off a pair of upsets, defeating No. 10 Stanford (3-2) and No. 12 Cal (4-1). The Wildcats also defeated Washington (4-1) before being swept by UCLA.
No. 20 Arizona State (6-9) upset No. 12 Cal 3-2 when No. 3 pair Cierra Flood and Sarah Waters of ASU defeated Cal’s Alexia Inman and Grace Paulson 18-21, 21-12, 15-12.
Our weekly summary of Division I college beach volleyball follows, with top-10 recaps, the latest AVCA poll, pairs of the week, undefeated pairs, and some notes from around the nation.
No. 1 UCLA (19-1)
The Bruins won four duals at the Pac-12 North Invitational. The Bruins dropped only one match, sweeping No. 20 Arizona State, Washington, and No. 9 Arizona, defeating No. 10 Stanford 4-1.
Jacqueline and Megan Muret clinched two of the Bruins’ four wins on court four, defeating Arizona’s Mady Noble and Dana Parker 21-14, 21-17 and Stanford’s Maddie Dailey and Jordan McKinney 12-21, 21-12, 15-5.
Next up: UCLA hosts Loyola Marymount twice Wednesday, then heads to San Luis Obispo for the Center of Effort beach volleyball Challenge to face No. 8 Grand Canyon, No. 5 LMU, No. 12 Cal Poly and No. 2 USC.
No. 2 USC (18-2)
USC also finished a nearly identical 4-0 at the Pac-12 North Invitational, again dropping only one match to No. 10 Stanford, while sweeping No. 12 Cal, Washington, and No. 20 Arizona State.
USC shuffled up its pairs a bit to create three new top-three pairings, finishing 12-0 collectively. At the No. 1 spot, Tina Graudina and Megan Kraft split-blocked their way to four wins, the new No. 2 lineup featured the return of Julia Scoles, now with Sammy Slater, and No. 3 featured Haley Hallgren and Hailey Harward.
Surprisingly, USC’s only loss was at the No. 5 slot, where twins Audrey and Nicole Nourse lost a nail-biter 26-24, 18-21, 15-13, ending the pair’s undefeated run of 26 consecutive wins.
“We’re constantly trying to find the right combinations to win,” USC coach Dain Blanton said. “I think we have multiple combinations that we can put together, and you’re always looking for team chemistry and how players work together.
“It was good that we were able to make some adjustments and have success doing it. It gives us a different look, and we’re trying to put our best team out there, and we were able to see some things. I like the way we had it before, and I like the new combinations.
Blanton will continue to test the new pairings this week at Cal Poly.
“We’ll know more this weekend when we play some really strong teams, Cal Poly, GCU, UCLA and LMU. So far, so good.”
USC’s typical practices, established under former coach Anna Collier, are the prototypical blocker/defender combinations. Like the success of Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb on the pro tour, Blanton sees the blockers’ increased athleticism as the college game progresses.
“The athletes are constantly changing, getting more developed,” Blanton said. “Some of these 6-footers can play really good defense. I’m open to a lot of different things. We try and train all of our players to just be great volleyball players, so they can just be plugged in, if you have to block, you have to block, if you have to play D, you have to play D.
“You want to have that attitude that not only can I play with any other player, at any time, I can play whatever side I need to play, and whatever position as well.”
Next up: USC goes to San Luis Obispo for the Center of Effort Challenge, facing No. 8 Grand Canyon and No. 1 UCLA Thursday and No. 5 LMU and No. 6 Cal Poly Friday.
No. 3 LSU (22-5)
LSU won five duals in its Battle on the Bayou, only dropping one match in the process, a 4-1 win over Texas A&M-Kingsville. The Tigers swept Spring Hill, Central Arkansas, New Orleans and ULM.
Eleven seniors were honored on LSU’s final home match of the season against ULM.
“To have a group that big with so many accolades, statistically, they’ve just meant so much to our program,” LSU coach Russell Brock said. “That’s just scratching the surface. My hope is that as people understand who they are and what they mean to our program, they’ll be more impressed by their character, they’ll be more impressed by the way they’ve cared for each other, by the way they’ve cared for this team, this program and university.”
Next up: LSU returns to the FSU Beach Bash with Saturday duals against No. 7 TCU and Southern Miss and Sunday duals against Tulane and No. 4 Florida State.
No. 4 Florida State (24-4)
No. 13 FIU came out of the gates strong and surprised No. 4 Florida State 3-2 Friday. Rain delayed the matches until 7 pm, when FSU took a 2-0 lead with victories by No. 2 Torrey Van Winden and Keara Rutz (21-11, 21-15) and No. 5 Jenna Johnson and Kate Privett (21-17, 21-13). FIU swept the final three matches with three-set wins. No. 4 Abbie Hughes and Paige Kalkhoff of FIU clinched the match against Payton Caffrey and Liz Waters-Leiga 16-21, 21-17, 18-16.
FSU later recovered to sweep No. 17 Stetson and UNF on Saturday when it honored its 11 seniors.
Next up: FSU hosts the FSU Beach Bash in Gulf Shores this weekend, facing Southern Miss and Tulane Saturday and No. 3 LSU and Southern Miss Sunday.
No. 5 Loyola Marymount (20-2)
LMU’s trip to Santa Cruz for the WCC Mid-season Invitational was productive, with a 4-1 win over St. Mary’s and three sweeps over Pacific, USF and Santa Clara.
Next up: Loyola’s schedule for this week includes a pair of duals at No. 1 UCLA Wednesday, then duals against No. 6 Cal Poly and No. 1 UCLA at Cal Poly Friday.
No. 6 Cal Poly (16-5)
Cal Poly’s trip to the big island produced two wins and a loss against Hawai’i (4-1 and 3-2 wins, losing 5-0). The Mustangs are now 3-1 against the Beachbows this year.
No. 1 pairs Emily Sonny and Macy Gordon clinched both wins for Poly, defeating Amber Igiede and Brooke Van Sickle twice (17-21, 21-9, 15-13 and 21-17, 11-21, 15-12).
Next up: Cal Poly hosts No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 USC, No. 5 Loyola Marymount and No. 8 Grand Canyon Friday and Saturday.
No. 7 TCU (21-4)
TCU capped a 12-0 home season this weekend with four dual wins over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Tulane, Boise State, and Houston Baptist.
The Horned Frogs’ top three pairs of Daniela Alvarez and Tania Moreno Mateeva, Hailey Brockett and Olivia Blackburn, and Rochelle Scott and Maria Gonzalez went undefeated.
TCU’s record now stands at 21-4, the most wins in program history, nine over ranked opponents.
Next up: TCU goes to Gulf Shores for duals against No. 4 Florida State, No. 3 LSU and Southern Miss.
No. 8 Grand Canyon (16-5)
Grand Canyon picked up four wins in Northridge, defeating Long Beach State 4-1 and 3-2, while sweeping CSUN twice.
The Lopes have won eight of their last nine.
Next up: GCU goes to San Luis Obispo for duals against No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 USC, and No. 5 Loyola Marymount and No. 6 Cal Poly.
No. 9 Arizona (16-4)
Arizona had the best weekend of its season, with upsets of No. 10 Stanford (3-2) and No. 12 Cal (4-1). The Wildcats also defeated Washington (4-1) before being swept by UCLA.
Next up: Arizona attends the Boise State Invitational with duals against Utah and Boise State, then heads to Washington to matchup with Washington and No. 15 Hawai’i.
No. 10 Stanford (14-7)
Stanford had a challenging weekend in Arizona, losing all four duals. The Cardinal lost 4-1 to UCLA and USC, and 3-2 to Arizona and Cal.
The losses ended the program’s 13-match winning streak, a program record.
Next up: Stanford returns home for weekend duals against St. Mary’s, No. 12 Cal, and No. 11 Pepperdine.
Arizona made the biggest move in this week’s poll, jumping three spots from No. 12 to No. 9, while Stanford dropped three spots from No. 7 to 10.
UCLA and USC remained at the top, with LSU and Florida State swapping spots at No. 3 and 4.
Loyola Marymount, Cal Poly, and TCU remained unchanged at No.s 5-7.
Pepperdine (now No. 11), Cal (now No. 12), FAU (now No. 14), and Hawai’i (now No. 15) all slid one spot.
FIU jumped two spots to No. 13 after its upset win over No. 3 Florida State.
No. 16 South Carolina advanced two spots, while No. 18 Long Beach State dropped two. Stetson and Georgia State held steady at No. 17 and No. 19.
Arizona State entered the poll at No. 20 after its 3-2 victory over No. 12 Cal.
Also receiving votes: Florida Gulf Coast, Tulane, St. Mary’s, Coastal Carolina, North Florida and Tampa.
Pairs of the Week
AVCA: Graudina and Kraft went 4-0 in their first matches together to receive their first AVCA Pairs of the Week honor together. The Trojans were 3-0 at No. 1 and 1-0 at No. 2. The weekly award is Graudina’s third, first for freshman Kraft.
CCSA: Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth earned their second CCSA weekly honors, announced April 7, following their 4-0 performance against USC and UCLA.
WCC: Pepperdine’s Simone Priebe and Melanie Paul were named the pair of the month for March, with a 9-4 record, 6-0 at No. 2 and 3-0 at No. 3, their only losses at the No. 1 spot.
Pac-12: UCLA’s Devon Newberry and Lindsey Sparks earned the April 9 award after a 4-0 run against Florida State and LSU.
Only three remain in NCAA beach volleyball after the Nourse sisters of USC lost.
LSU’s Nuss Kloth are still the only unbeaten pair at the No. 1 spot, now 27-0. They had five straight-set wins over New Orleans, Texas A&M Kingville, ULM, Spring Hill and Central Arkansas. Nuss and Kloth kept their opponents to 10 poiints or less in six of the 10 sets.
Grand Canyon’s Allanis Navas and Paula Hoffman (16-0) and FIU’s Abbie Hughes and Paige Kalkhoff (11-0) are undefeated at No. 4.
Around the Nation
The University of Hawai’i hosted a BowStang Pairs Challenge Sunday, with eight Cal Poly pairs competing and seven from UH.
Cal Poly advanced two pairs to the double-elimination finals as Kalee Graff and Vanessa Roscoe and Piper Naess and Josie Ulrich were declared co-champions. The Beachbows’ Lea Kruse and Harlee Kekauoha advanced to the semifinals, where Naess and Ulrich defeated them 21-16.
UNCW coach David Fischer was able to celebrate his birthday on the road with his squad April 9. The Seahawks rewarded him with a pair of 5-0 wins over Stevenson.
Coastal Carolina (18-4) added a pair of wins over Jacksonville State Wednesday (3-2, 5-0), establishing a new program record with 11 consecutive victories. However, the Chanticleers’ streak ended Friday, with a 4-1 loss to FIU and 4-0 defeat against FAU.
Morehead State kicks off its schedule Saturday and Sunday at Jacksonville State, facing UT Martin, Chattanooga, Austin Peay and Jacksonville State. The Eagles follow that up with duals at Eastern Kentucky Tuesday and Wednesday.
St. Mary’s (6-5) went 4-1 for the week, sweeping Pacific, 4-1 wins over USF and Santa Clara, and a 3-2 win over UC Davis before falling to No. 5 Loyola Marymount.
North Alabama (11-8) added two wins Friday, defeating Austin Peay 5-0 and 4-1.