GULF SHORES, Ala. — Maybe it’s too much to ask to beat a team four times in one season.
That seemed to be the case Sunday afternoon when UCLA went back-to-back by winning the National Collegiate Beach Championships with a 3-0 victory over arch-rival USC.
Since this was turned into an NCAA event, it’s been all about those two schools. USC, which won the last two AVCA national titles, won it all in 2016 and 2017. And then UCLA broke through last year and appeared well on the way to another through midseason.
They played five times this year before this. UCLA won 3-2 on February 27 at USC and then the Bruins won 4-1 at UCLA on April 3.
But then USC woke up as the tide turned at the Pac-12 North Invitational at Stanford, when the Trojans broke through 3-2. And then USC won twice in back-to-back matches, both times 3-2, to win the Pac-12 Championship.
Which brought us to Sunday. In the morning elimination match, USC sent LSU packing 3-2, setting up a sixth contest between the two Los Angeles schools.
UCLA was dominant from the start, winning the first set at all five duals. It basically became a race to see who would clinch it for the Bruins. They went up 2-0 when Madi Yeomans and Savvy Simo beat Maja Kaiser 21-16, 21-19 at No. 4, and Izzy Carey and Linsey Sparks beat Mollie Ebertin and Cammie Dorn 21-16, 21-15 at No. 5.
It could have been the McNamara twins, Megan and Nicole, who won the first set at No. 1 21-18 and were tied 19-19 in the second against Tina Graudina and Abril Bustamante. Or at No. 2, where Lily Justine and Sarah Sponcil led 21-18, 19-10.
But it ended at No. 3, when Abby Van Winkle, playing with Zana Muno, stuffed USC’s Alexandra Poletto, playing with Hailey Hallgren, to give UCLA a 22-20, 21-13 victory.
Even though they didn’t get to clinch the match, the McNamara twins, seniors Nicole and Megan, capped a tremendous career at UCLA. They came a long way — literally, from Canada — when we first interviewed them as freshman before they played their first match.
LSU, which ended its best season yet at 29-7, came back from 0-1 in both cases to win at Nos. 4 and 5. And that included having to make a lineup switch at No. 5 when freshman Allison Coens, who returned for this tournament after battling mono, simply had nothing left. So LSU coach Russell Brock went with Kahlee York to partner with Hunter Domanski.
York, a 5-11 sophomore who went 3-0 last year, and 7-8 this season, all at No. 2, and Domanski beat USC’s Ebertin and Dorn 17-21, 21-13, 15-9. Then the LSU pair of Olivia Beyer and Maddie Ligon won at No. 4 over Kaiser and Dennis 19-21, 21-17, 15-13.
But LSU was no match at Nos. 1, 2, and 3, when Graudina and Bustamante, Slater and Cannon, and Hallgren and Poletto all won in two. The loss at No. 1 for LSU’s Kristen Nuss and Claire Coppola — who won a program-record 32 matches this season — was their first since March 29.
The attendance was 3,228, bringing the three-day total to 9,449, the best in the four-year history of the event.