For the second straight day, UCLA’s fate came down to its No. 5 pair. And this time Rileigh Powers and Jaden Whitmarsh came through.
The end result is that top-seeded UCLA (31-4) will play fifth-seeded Loyola Marymount (31-7) at 9 Central on Sunday morning for the right to play second-seeded USC (29-4) for the NCAA’s National Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship.
Back to Powers and Whitmarsh. On Friday, the Bruins were upset by LMU and when it came down to, it Powers and Whitmarsh came up short. But against fourth-seeded LSU in the last match Saturday in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the pair prevailed over LSU’s Kahlee York and Olivia Ordonez 15-21, 21-19, 15-12.
Here’s what happened Saturday:
LSU knocked out CCSA-champion Florida State 3-1.
Then UCLA swept at-large and 7th-seeded Cal Poly 3-0.
In the winners-bracket match, USC beat LMU 3-1, moving the Trojans into Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. Central final. Both matches will be shown on ESPN2.
LSU, playing with a mission this season after being ranked No. 1 in 2020 when the season was called off, overpowered Florida State as Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss won at No. 1, Jess Lansman and Sydney Moore won at No. 4, and York and Ordonez won at No. 5.
“We are all pretty hurt right now, so this will be motivation to really work hard this offseason,” FSU coach Brooke Niles said. “As a staff, we need to look at ways to improve and to be better and tougher in those tough moments. The players are going to be really motivated to come back here and give it a shot next year.”
UCLA bounced Cal Poly with wins at No. 2 by Lea Monkhouse and Devon Newberry, No. 4 by Muret and Jacqueline Quade, and at No. 5 by Powers and Whitmarsh.
USC was too much for LMU, as it scored wins at No. 1 by Tina Graudina and Megan Kraft, at No. 2 by Julia Scoles and Sammy Slater, and No. 5 by sisters Audrey and Nicole Nourse. LMU is making its first NCAA appearance.
That put all eyes on UCLA-LSU. LSU’s No. 1 pair of Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth completed their season upbeaten with a record of 36-0 when they went overtime twice to beat Lexy Denaburg and Savvy Simo 23-21, 23-21. They tied for the best record by an undefeated pair on Court 1 with USC’s Kelly Claes and Sarah Hughes in 2016. At No. 2, Monkhouse and Newberry beat Claire Coppola and Kelli Greene-Agnew in two. Teammates Abby Van Winkle and Lindsey Sparks won at No. 3, beating LSU’s Ashlyn Rasnick-Pope and Toni Rodriguez in two. At No. 4, LSU’s Jess Lansman and Sydney Moore beat Jacqueline Quade and Megan Muret.
At No. 5, LSU’s Ordonez and York won the first set 21-15. UCLA squared it 21-19, and then kept the upper hand throughout the fiercely contested third set before winning 15-12.
“I could not be more proud of this team,” said LSU senior-leader Nuss, the winningest player in college beach volleyball history. “The way we fought until the very end is something that I will remember forever.
“We’ll forever be a team no matter the wins and losses.”
“Anybody that has seen our team play the past five years has seen the body of work,” said LSU coach Russell Brock. “All the stats are almost incalculable. Even as we stand in the circle, it’s daunting to think about how we will replace them. It’s not just their skill. It’s their accountability level, the way that they commit to the program, their understanding of what it means to be who we are.
“Where we came from and where we are as a program, they are that. Without them it will be tough, but they will always be remembered fondly and as the greatest group that as ever put on the purple and gold.”