Rise and shine: The NCAA beach volleyball schedule kicks off in earnest this week and it features some top-level battles from the get-go. That includes top-ranked and defending-champion UCLA at home against No. 6 Cal Poly early Thursday morning.
The match on the Westwood campus starts at 8 a.m. Pacific as both teams prepare for a big travel weekend. UCLA is headed to the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Beach Classic in Hawai’i, while Cal Poly goes cross country to Florida State.
“We’re super-excited to get started and test what we’ve been working on,” UCLA coach Stein Metzger said. “We have five seniors this year who have been with us for a long time, so we’re just trying to live in gratitude each day that we’ve had these kids with us this long as a part of our program, and this is their last opportunity to compete with UCLA across their chest, I know it’s a special year for them.
“They’re spoiling us as a group in practice every day, getting an opportunity to compete against these five seniors, Nicole McNamara, Megan McNamara, Isabelle Carey, Zana Muno, and Sarah Sponcil.”
Later Thursday, second-ranked USC starts with what might be the toughest match of the season. The 6 p.m. alumni match typically features international and domestic pros like April Ross and Geena Urango. USC — which saw its stranglehold on the NCAA title broken last season — officially opens its season the following Wednesday when it plays host to UCLA and No. 15 Loyola Marymount.
“We got whatever we needed to get under our belt last year.” USC coach Anna Collier said. “It was a great learning, growing, rebuilding, whatever those athletic terms are that everybody uses that I never thought was a reality.
“I think the team learned a lot, so moving forward, having that behind us, I think we’ve built a really strong foundation in a lot of ways not only athletically and in volleyball, but also in team bonding and culture, where we absolutely had to stick together through a lot of turmoil.”
USC lost just one player (Jenna Belton).
“We’re playing some good volleyball right now. I see some really good volleyball, which is always nice to see at the beginning of the year,” Collier said. “I feel really good about my team and their play. We were fortunate to have the highest GPA out of all 21 sports. That bodes well for getting your nose to the grindstone, wanting to be a student-athlete, wanting to do all the right things to be a champion. Culture, academics, and skill are the three components that, when moving together, will help you win a championship.”
Third-ranked Florida State’s schedule starts Saturday as the Seminoles play host to a strong field that includes Cal Poly, No. 7 LSU, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 18 Tulane, and Tampa in the FSU Invitational.
“The team’s training really hard,” FSU head coach Brooke Niles said. “They look really good. They’ve spent a lot of time in the the weight room and conditioning this off season. We lost five starters and seven players from last year’s team, so we’ll look a lot different, and be a lot younger, but I’m excited to see how they do.”
Fourth-ranked Pepperdine — with a new coach — is also at the Kahanamoku Beach Classic, which also includes No. 5 Hawai’i, No. 11 Stanford, and Saint Mary’s. Marcio Sicoli takes over at Pepperdine where Nina Matthies retired after being the only head coach the program ever had.
Eighth-ranked Long Beach State plays host Tuesday to Cal State LA and Long Beach City College, the junior college team coached by former Beach great Misty May-Treanor.
The ninth-ranked FIU Panthers open their season at the Stetson Spring Fling on Friday, which also includes No. 13 Georgia State, No. 17 Stetson, Eckerd, and Saint Leo.
No. 12 Cal plays Santa Clara at home on Saturday and then takes on San Francisco in the afternoon.
No. 14 Arizona is at home Friday against Colorado Mesa and Boise State.
Grand Canyon, ranked 16th, is home for Loyola Marymount and New Mexico.
And No. 19 TCU’s first match is at No. 20 Florida Atlantic, where the field also includes North Florida, Webber International, and Florida Southern.