Mewhirter’s NCAA beach rankings: We have a lot in common with college hoops

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UCLA's Riley Powers, right, and Devon Newberry embrace as the Bruins go undefeated at the Pac-12 South/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Last Tuesday night, I had the misfortune of being able to watch my beloved Maryland Terrapins basketball team lose a, frankly, awful game to Rutgers. At the time, Maryland was 23-6, in line to potentially receive a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The loss confounded sportswriters and basketball fans alike. In a season where nothing had made sense, this made even less sense.

As I sat in misery in my hotel room in DeLand, Florida, I came to the realization that the NCAA basketball season was an apt parallel to the current NCAA beach volleyball season, where parity has reigned supreme, a cut-and-dry pecking order simply cannot be established, and upsets are a bit of an oxymoron.

This was a season on the hardwood in which Evansville beat Kentucky, Stephen F. Austin beat Duke, and North Carolina is so bad that coach Roy Williams issued an apology.

On the beach, it’s been a season in which a school in Baton Rouge has topped two-time defending champ UCLA twice, where Grand Canyon defeated mighty USC for the first time in history, Cal has the best record on the West Coast, and Tampa is a legitimately scary team, no matter what division it’s classified as.

It’s wonderfully chaotic, both on the hardwood and on the beach. Later this month, social media will be rife will memes and gifs of burned brackets and rankings, symbols that could relate to both sports. So here I present another edition of my NCAA Beach Power Rankings, the third and likely just as useless version.

No. 1 — LSU (12-2; previous rank: 1)
This was a delightfully slow week for the Tigers. After beginning their season with the crucible of Hawai’i twice and UCLA thrice, the Tigers took a step back this week, traveling to Fort Worth, Texas, for the Fight in the Fort at TCU. There, LSU beat four solid programs in Arizona, TCU, Missouri State and Alabama-Birmingham, extending its record to 12-2. A big congrats is also in order to Claire Coppola and Kristen Nuss, the linchpins of the program who surpassed the 100-victory mark in their decorated careers. Another relatively light week follows before the Tigers will have a much-anticipated matchup with Florida State on March 21.

Upcoming matches: Spring Hill, Southern Miss, Louisiana Monroe

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LSU’s Kelli Agnew, left, and Taryn Kloth have not lost a set this season/MG Miller photo

No. 2 — UCLA (11-2; previous rank: 2)
In years past, March 7 could have been viewed as almost a de facto national championship, when UCLA, owners of the last two NCAA titles, played USC, owners of the first two NCAA titles. This year is a bit different, as both teams have a few more question marks — very talented question marks — than their previous iterations, but the rivalry lived up to its billing, per usual. They split on the first four courts, with it all coming down to a white-knuckler of a match on No. 5. The Bruins won, with Mac May providing two timely blocks at the end and Megan Muret adding some wizardry throughout the second set. It led to an undefeated weekend for the Bruins, who will see USC again on Wednesday when the Trojans host UCLA and Pepperdine.

Upcoming matches: USC, Pepperdine, Georgia State, Pepperdine, Cal Poly

Abby Van Winkle stretches to keep the ball alive for UCLA/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

No. 3 — Florida State (12-1, previous rank: 3)
Like LSU, Florida State enjoyed a relatively light week after a loaded first few weekends. The Seminoles swept UNC Wilmington and North Florida, surpassing 200 victories as a program. This weekend, however, is not so light. Florida State will get another crack at USC, which handed it the only blemish on the ledger. The Seminoles will also see Hawai’i for the first of two matchups this season while getting another look at Stetson, making for three sizable matches in two days.

Upcoming matches: USC, Hawai’i, UAB, Stetson

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Florida State’s Molly McBain stretches out in the Seminoles victory Friday over FAU/FSU photo

No. 4 — Hawai’i (7-2, previous rank: 4)
Hawai’i took the week off, likely preparing for its upcoming East Coast swing, where the SandBows will travel to the Stetson Beach Blast before heading over to Tampa. There, they’ll match up with small but powerful Tampa, the Small School National Champions, and Florida Gulf Coast before heading home. Stetson will be one of two major locations to keep an eye on this weekend, as any number of results could come out of clashes between the Hatters, Bows, Seminoles and Trojans, while UAB, whom the Bows also play, isn’t exactly an easy win. This will be a good test for Hawai’i in its second road trip of the season.

Upcoming matches: UAB, Florida State, Stetson, USC

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Hawai’i’s Pani Napoleon extends for a dig during action Saturday/Hawai’i Athletics

No. 5 — Cal Poly (7-2, previous rank: 5)
In sweeping Grand Canyon on Friday, Poly got a leg up on yet another West Region contender. The previous weekend, the Mustangs fended off both LMU and Pepperdine, putting themselves in the driver’s seat for a West Region bid to Gulf Shores early in the season. This weekend, when Poly travels to Zuma Beach to meet Pepperdine and UCLA, will be another big opportunity to further establish itself. Until then, the Mustangs can rest easy on four consecutive 5-0 wins.

Upcoming matches: Pepperdine, UCLA, Georgia State

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Cal Poly’s Macy Gordon gets low to pass/Tim Britt photo

No. 6 — LMU (6-3, previous rank: 8)
To be totally honest, ranks 6-12 this year are going to be a revolving door. One week, Georgia State will beat Cal; the next, Cal will beat USC, who will then beat Florida State. One week, LMU will be 3-3, with one decent win on the resume (Pepperdine); the next, the Lions will appear to be able to beat anyone, as they did in three consecutive victories over Stetson, South Carolina and Long Beach State.

Coach John Mayer scheduled well, with seven (well, maybe six) of the nine matches thus far coming against teams who either were or are prospects to make Gulf Shores. It’s why LMU’s 6-3 record is more impressive than Cal’s 9-1: LMU has four valuable wins (Pepperdine, Stetson, South Carolina, Long Beach), while its three losses have come to high-caliber teams (UCLA, Cal Poly, USC). The schedule will lighten up soon, but LMU has done an excellent job of proving itself early in the year.

Upcoming matches: Ottawa, Texas A&M, Grand Canyon

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LMU’s Reka Orsi Toth plays a ball as the Pepperdine squad watches/George Davison photo

No. 7 0– Florida Atlantic (11-1, previous rank: 7)
Florida Atlantic is, simply, taking care of business. The Owls have won 11 of 12, beating Georgia State twice and Stetson once. You may be wondering why a team with 11 wins and 1 loss is behind a team like LMU, who has six wins and three losses. Fair question. While LMU barely has half the wins the Owls do, the Lions’ six wins are more valuable on the resume. The Owls will get their chance soon enough, with USC, South Carolina, TCU, LSU, Florida State, Cal, and UCLA all on the schedule in the last two weeks of March. Until then, FAU must simply continue to win the matches they should, and then win the ones that the selection committee will value come May.

Upcoming matches: Austin Peay, UNC Wilmington, Florida Gulf Coast, Webber International

No. 8 — Grand Canyon (10-2, previous rank: 6)
After logging big early season wins over Cal and USC, Grand Canyon had another opportunity to cement themselves as a contender in the West Region race when Cal Poly came to town on Friday. The Mustangs won, 5-0, setting the Lopes back a touch. But GCU will have another chance this upcoming weekend with a Saturday matchup against LMU, who is in a similar cluster of teams pushing for a West Region bid. Unfortunately for the Lopes, they don’t have an abundance of opportunities to pick up big wins, so each one will be significant from here on out.

Upcoming matches: Ottawa, LMU, Texas A&M-Kingsville

First four out:
Cal (9-1)
FIU (7-1)
USC (4-4)
Pepperdine (2-3)

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