HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth came on the podcast last month. In the accompanying write-up that goes with every episode of SANDCAST, I mentioned that Nuss is the winningest NCAA beach volleyball player of all time.

A few days later, Jordan Cheng, a good friend of mine and the coach of Sara Hughes and Kelly Cheng, asked how Nuss’ 139 wins could be more than Hughes’ 190.

He is not the first to ask this question.

When Nuss broke the NCAA record during her senior season in 2021, LSU justifiably made a mighty big deal of the matter. Shortly after, Anna Collier, Hughes’ coach at USC, called and asked how this could possibly be, since Nuss hadn’t amassed as many total wins as Hughes.

Almost every time I have written about either Hughes or Nuss in the two years since, and note their collegiate success, readers from both sides of the LSU-USC divide will message me, virtual pitchforks and torches in hand.

Neither are wrong.

LSU is right to celebrate Nuss as the winningest NCAA beach volleyball player of all time.

USC is right to argue the matter that Hughes is the winningest collegiate beach volleyball player of all time.

Sara Hughes-Kelly Cheng-Anna Collier
Kelly Claes (now Cheng), USC coach Anna Collier, and Sara Hughes celebrate their Pac-12 double title  in 2016.

Both players will go down with immutable legacies in the sport. Hughes helped establish the most dynastic program in all of college sport. Nuss helped put a plucky LSU program on the map, an East Region team fit to challenge the West. Both are now in contention to make the Olympic Games, widely considered to be two of the top three defenders in the United States.

But what gives? Who is the rightful queen of college beach’s throne?

Both, really.

Hughes finished her career at USC 190-8; Nuss closed hers at LSU 139-21. Where the semantics come into play is that Hughes competed in the AVCA her first two years at USC, while the sport was still deemed an “emerging sport” until it hit the threshold of 40 schools adopting it as an officially sanctioned sport. Her 2014 and 2015 seasons, then, didn’t count, as they are technically AVCA wins, not NCAA wins. That lops of 86 wins from her NCAA ledger, which leaves her with 104 NCAA wins.

Sara Hughes digs for USC/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Again, semantics. And, again, neither fanbase is wrong. Hughes won 190 matches in four seasons at USC. Kelly Claes (now Cheng) won 181, and Nicolette Martin 141, all of which are, obviously, cumulatively higher totals than Nuss’ 139. Both Cheng and Hughes have higher career winning percentages in college — 95.9% 94.3%, respectively — than Nuss, who won 86.8%.

The merits of those wins are, of course, open to debate, which makes sports fun. There were dozens and dozens more programs, with more talent, for Nuss to compete against than Hughes and Cheng and Martin. Hughes and Cheng, of course, competed in the West Region, which is notably more difficult than the East.

That’s all subjective.

Objectively, Nuss is the winningest NCAA Beach Volleyball player of all time.

Hughes is the winningest collegiate player.

Two thoughts, both true.

Who’s the queen, then?

That’s up to you.

Beach All-Americans 5/24/2021-Kristen Nuss-LSU beach volleyball
LSU’s Kristen Nuss was the VolleyballMag.com Player of the Year in 2021/Chris Parent, LSU Athletics


  1. Aloha Travis and VM readers. Fun read and great debate.

    I am a Hawai`i guy who has coached against both of these amazing players and programs on both sides of their wins and losses in both eras. So, I have no skin in the game for either program or player, yet I feel compelled to jump in on behalf of the NCAA game’s history and note that while Sara played in an era that held an AVCA Championship, it is my understanding that it was in fact an NCAA sport at that time. It just did not hold an NCAA Championship while it was on the *emerging list* in those first few years. We coaches and players were still competing in the NCAA for NCAA member institutions and held to all standards of NCAA compliance and NCAA conduct. Therefore, in my view, wins in that era are still NCAA wins, and there is no such thing as AVCA wins, only AVCA championships; which it did a great job holding down until NCAA started holding Championships. Just my two cents having lived through it.

    *NCAA Emerging Sports for Women are intercollegiate women’s sports that are recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States, but do not have sanctioned NCAA Championships*


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