Story and photos by Ed Chan, video interviews by Rob Espero
And 90 minutes after they won, the Bruins were on a bus to LAX so they could fly across three time zones to Hawai’i for the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Beach Classic.
“We leave for the airport in an hour and a half,” UCLA senior Savvy Simo said right after the match. “We have to shower, get some food, and just hydrate. Because it’s hot out here now, and I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be out there. The biggest thing is just taking care of our bodies, and those are some good teams. I think on Saturday we have three games, so it’s going to be brutal, but we’re ready for it. We’re excited.”
The trip is exactly what UCLA coach Stein Metzger’s hopes for as he scheduled tough, putting his players into adverse conditions to prepare for another run to the 2020 NCAA Championship in May in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
“This game, as they say, requires reliability and flexibility,” Metzger said. “I like to put our teams in positions that you might see on the professional tour, where you’re jumping on flights, you’re traveling, you have to show up and prepare in any kind of conditions, if there’s wind, different sand conditions and depth, sometimes puddles on the court, nets that are not straight.
“Through that, we continue to talk about flexibility and being able to adjust to the conditions. This is just another opportunity for us to travel, play in a different environment, different time zone, which we’ll have to do both throughout the year and at the end. I really like to look for opportunities to push their growth edge to be able to execute when things are not ideal for them.”
Nobody has done more adjusting than Jacqueline Quade, the 6-foot-2 former indoor All-American outside hitter at Illinois. Quade, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, is a late arrival to the Bruins, with a scant two months’ experience on the beach.
But she won her first college beach match, partnering with Lindsey Sparks at No. 4 to outlast LMU’s Georgia Fusco and Lacy Haddock 21-7, 17-21, 16-14, as Quade clinched the dual with a finishing block.
Metzger sees plenty of upside in Quade, UCLA beach’s first transfer.
“I thought she did really well. She only came off the indoor scene two months ago. She got a lot of good touches today, they served her a ton of balls, she got tested. I actually like that they went three, she’s just getting more time on the court, more experience. And she had an opportunity to play with Lindsey Sparks, she’s a coach on the court,” Metzger said.
“She’s learning quickly, we have high hopes for her, and we’re going to try and continue to give her opportunities to play and be out here and learn the game as fast as possible.
The 2020 Bruins have a youthful look after graduating five seniors. UCLA is led by seniors Savvy Simo and Lily Justine. On Thursday, Simo teamed with Abby Van Winkle for a sweep at No. 1, while Justine and Lea Monkhouse won in three at No. 2.
“That’s a really good team, and it’s good to get a 5-0 win against them,” Simo said. “We all started out a little nervous against them, on our brand new courts, but we’re all fired up, stayed pretty even keeled, and just settled in. Some games went to a third set, but they’re really good. That’s a huge win for us, especially going to Hawai’i tomorrow.”
It’s a long road for the Bruins, not only to Hawai’i, but in their pursuit of a third consecutive national championship. The team will be put to the test immediately on Saturday, playing Hawai’i at 8 a.m. local time, LSU at 12:30 p.m., Stanford at 2 p.m.
Fifth-year Loyola Marymount coach John Mayer sees an opportunity in 2020 for his Lions as college beach volleyball has grown and parity is more apparent.
“Those teams were just going to beat us,” Mayer said. “This year, there are still a lot of good teams, but it doesn’t feel that there’s anyone that we go up against that we don’t have a fighter’s chance against.
“I think that’s true across the board. There are 10 or 15 teams now that can battle, and five or 10 that could compete for a national championship. Before, there were just a couple.”
The new UCLA facility is named Mapes Beach. Former UCLA tennis player John Mapes and his wife, Carrie, donated $1 million to build the on-campus venue, which has three competition courts and a practice court. Click here to read more.