NCAA beach: Two weeks in and it’s USC in the West, Florida State in the East

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NCAA beach volleyball 3/10/2021-Audrey Nourse-Nicole Nourse-USC beach volleyball
USC's Nicole and Audrey Nourse chase down a dig/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

It’s only the second week of the NCAA beach volleyball season, but the initial pecking order was established in the East and West as Florida State and USC established early season claims over their regional rivals. 

At USC, the Trojans swept both UCLA and Cal Poly in impressive fashion to gain this week’s No. 1 AVCA ranking with nine first-place votes. Out east in Baton Rouge, FSU established CCSA bragging rights with a 4-1 win over then-No. 1 LSU. As a result, the Seminoles moved up in the poll to No. 2 with five first-place votes.

Given the difficulty of traveling in the pandemic, we’ll have to wait until April 3 for any East-West matchups, when Florida State and USC collide.

In the meantime, let’s look back at last week for the AVCA top 10 and around the nation.

Hailey Harward-USC beach volleyball-NCAA beach volleyball 3/10/2021
Hailey Harward spikes against Cal Poly’s Jayelin Lombard/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

No. 1 USC (6-0)
The Trojans had an impressive week, going 4-0 against UCLA, Cal Poly and Pepperdine (twice), running up a collective 19-1 for the week. USC’s impressive physicality shines at home in Merle Norman stadium, where the wind-sheltered stadium allows the Trojans’ impressive vertical reach and powerful swings to shine.

USC won both matches handily, dropping only two sets in each dual.

“I’m just really pleased with the team’s effort today,” USC coach Dain Blanton said. “You train so much against each other, and you push so hard, beating each other up in practice every day, you never know where you are until you play the great teams, it’s a huge challenge.

“They prepared well, they trained well, and then they took care of it. But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s early March, everyone’s going to make adjustments, but I’m pleased with the culture and the work ethic. The athletes are amazing, and we just want to keep up the tradition that Anna Collier started years ago here.”

Blanton looks forward to the Trojans’ continual improvement. 

“So many girls are making so many gains and working on things and solving problems and finding new ones. That’s so much fun improving and kind of sharpening the sword every time you go out there. 

“They all understand, ‘I’ve got to do a job, and contribute to the team, and I was pleased with everyone from top to bottom. Everyone came out and did their role.”

Next up: The Trojans host No. 17 Long Beach State and No. 7 Loyola Marymount on Saturday.

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FSU’s Torrey Van Winden (left) and Keara Rutz celebrate/FSU photo

No. 2 FSU (10-0, 6-0)
Florida State had a busy week on the road, sweeping ULM, Tulane, Houston Baptist, and Georgia State, with 4-1 wins against LSU and Florida Atlantic. 

The Seminoles demonstrated exceptional depth, outscoring their opponents this week by an average of six points a set.

Even against top-ranked LSU, FSU dropped only one match, in the No. 3 flight.

Next up: Coach Brooke Niles is a proponent of scheduling tough, and week 3 is no exception as the Seminoles travel to Gulf Shores for an anticipated rematch against No. 3 LSU, as well as No. 10 TCU and No. 11 Grand Canyon.

No. 3 LSU (7-1, 2-1)
The Tigers had their first home matches of the year at the Tiger Beach Challenge with limited fan seating. LSU swept FAU, Georgia State, and Houston Baptist, but their homecoming was spoiled by that 4-1 defeat to FSU.

“This was a great test for us to know where we are,” LSU coach Russell Brock said. “You never want to lose, but if you’re going to, losing now (in week 2) is definitely the time to do it. We still have a great team and I know the team is excited, not about the loss, but about the perspective of how good we are and how good we’re going to be.

“If anything, it will help us work harder, it will help us work more focused, it will help us work more effectively as we look to get better in the next months.”

Next up: The Tigers will get a chance to avenge their loss at the March to May in Gulf Shores, facing No. 18 Georgia State and No. 2 Florida State on Saturday, and No. 11 Grand Canyon and UAB on Sunday.

NCAA beach volleyball-Jaden Whitmarsh-UCLA beach volleyball
UCLA’s Jaden Whitmarsh lays out for a dig/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

No. 4 UCLA (4-1, 3-0)
UCLA, which won it all in 2019, swept both Cal Poly and Cal this week, but were shell-shocked by USC 5-0, the first time the Bruins have been swept since 2018.

“It was a pretty good whomping they gave us,” UCLA coach Stein Metzger said. “They’re tough to play at home, that stadium is pretty unique. They’re playing at a high level, they’re physical this year, there’s a lot of firepower. “

Metzger looks forward to practice.

“We just need to play better,” he said. “SC played great at home. They served well. Our attack percentage needs to get better. They just broke our pass. We just weren’t that sharp. I think we played better in practice. We look forward to continuing to improve and the next opportunity.”

Next up: The Bruins host No. 8 Pepperdine twice Thursday

No. 5 Hawai’i (0-0):
Hawai’i opens its season March 22. Click here for the schedule. 

Jayelin Lombard-NCAA beach volleyball 3/10/2021-Cal Poly beach volleyball
Cal Poly’s Jayelin Lombard gets an open net against USC/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

No. 6 Cal Poly (3-3)
Coach Todd Rogers likes to schedule tough. In particular, the Mustangs have faced FSU, UCLA and USC in their last three matches, finishing 0-3.

“I wanted to see all the top teams early,” Rogers said, “because I wanted to see how we stacked up against them. We have some work to do, but it’s the kind of work I look forward to. 

“In some areas, we’re not as physical as some of the other teams. And so therefore we’re going to have to strategize and use our brain rather than our brawn.” 

Outsmarting opponents was a habit for Rogers, who earned the nickname “The Professor” while winning 80 professional events in his career, including a 2008 Olympic gold medal in Beijing.

“At the higher end, they were just more physical. That’s my gig, ‘How are you going to beat a more physical player?’

“I liked to do that when I was a player, and I told the team, ‘Look, they’re more physical than us, that’s just reality. It’s my job to figure out a strategy that’s going to allow you to side out and score points against a more physical team, which is entirely possible.”

Rogers acknowledged that USC’s top three pairs were tough to beat.

“Our fours and fives competed hard, they were in the battle, we easily could have won those matches, they were right there. And looking at USC’s team composition, you really have to, because it’s going to be really hard to match up with their ones, twos, and threes.”

Rogers is optimistic.

“When everyone’s healthy, when everyone’s ready to go, and we have the right scouting report in place, we can do some damage,” he said. 

Next up: Poly travels to Bakersfield Saturday for CSU Bakersfield and The Master’s University, then plays Pepperdine in Malibu on Sunday.

No. 7 Loyola Marymount (7-1)
The Lions won four duals this week, beating Vanguard (5-0), Long Beach State (3-2), Cal (4-1) and Concordia (5-0). This despite LMU having to move from their normal home site of Ocean Park, closed due to COVID, to Great Parks Irvine.

Next up: The Lions face Long Beach and USC on Saturday.

No. 8 Pepperdine (1-3)
The Waves split last week, defeating Long Beach State (3-2) but falling to USC (4-1). The Waves’ No. 3 pair of Melanie Paul and Simone Priebe were a bright spot, defeating both Kenzie Holtz and Katie Kennedy of Long Beach (21-14, 21-12) and Haley Hallgren and Megan Kraft (21-16, 14-21, 15-13).

Next up: Pepperdine takes on UCLA on Thursday morning, then plays Cal Poly at noon Sunday.

No. 9 Cal Berkeley (3-2, 1-1)
The Bears went 1-2 this week, sweeping Concordia (5-0) but lost to UCLA (5-0) and Loyola Marymount (1-4). There was a little more at stake in Sunday’s second match as Loyola’s Iya Lindahl faced her old team for the first time. Ultimately Cal came away with the dual point as Cal’s Mima Mirkovic and Caroline Shafer edged LMU’s Megan Rice and Iya Lindahl (25-23, 20-22, 16-14).

“It was a good, competitive rivalry match,” Cal interim coach Derek Olson said. “We know Iya quite well, but she also knows us. I thought that Mima and Caroline played the best ball control match they’ve played all season. They’re starting to trust each other and hit their stride playing together.”

Olson hoped for a better result against LMU.

“This was not our best weekend of play. “We went up against a good, experienced LMU team. They have a bunch of seniors and players who were set to graduate last year. They are an experienced, older team. We can and will be competitive with them down the road. We have four newcomers in the lineup and they have to trust in the process and that comes with more experience. We need to work on some things, but it’s good to go through this now. We have the opportunity to learn from it and be more prepared later on in the season.”

Next up: The Bears have the week off and will play at UC Davis on March 23 against both UC Davis and Hawai’i.

No. 10 TCU (7-0, 6-1)
The Horned Frogs won all four of their matches at the Horned Frog challenge, breaking out of their 11th-place tie to rank No. 10 in this week’s AVCA poll. TCU defeated Central Arkansas (5-0) and Florida International (3-2) March 5, followed by UAB (3-2) and Southern Miss (5-0) March 6.

The win against UAB was key after going down 0-2 at pairs 4 and 5 before pairs 1-3 closed out the comeback win.

Next up: TCU has a busy weekend at Gulf Shores for the March to May tournament with duals against Grand Canyon, Florida State, Tulane, Georgia State and UAB.

Pairs of the week
AVCA and CCSA:
Torrey Van Winden and Keara Rutz of Florida State earned Pair of the Week honors for both the AVCA and CCSA after dropping only one set in six matches. This weekend at LSU, the court two pair swept ULM and Tulane before dropping a set to Houston Baptist. The pair are two of only five players in NCAA beach with 10-0 records, along with teammates Maddie Anderson, Kate Privett and Sara Putt. 

ASUN: Stetson’s Ana Costa and Carly Perales earned Pair of the Week honors after winning 12 of 13 sets this week, defeating South Carolina, Coastal Carolina and North Florida (twice).

Big West: Long Beach’s Skyler Germann and Alice Pratesi grabbed Pair of the Week honors after a 3-1 week at the No. 4 pairing, sweeping Vanguard, and beating both LMU and Pepperdine in three sets. The pair was the only LBSU duo to score a set win over USC.

Pac-12: USC’s Julia Scoles and Hailey Harward received the Pac-12 Pair of the Week award after running up a 4-0 record without dropping a single set. No opponent has yet scored more than 16 points in a set against the duo.

Around the Nation
Arizona (5-0) went 3-0 in its home Cactus Classic, sweeping Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Boise State … Stetson ran up a 6-0 record this week with four dual wins at the Coastal Carolina Invitational: Coastal Carolina (3-2), College of Charleston (4-1), South Carolina (3-2) and UNC Wilmington (5-0), then returning home for a pair of home wins over North Florida (5-0) … Grand Canyon dominated a pair of home duals March 5 without losing a set against Park and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Lucky 13
After two weeks, only 13 pairs are undefeated in NCAA beach volleyball. 

At No. 1, it’s LSU’s Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth (8-0), and USC’s Tina Graudina and Sammy Slater (6-0).

At No. 2, it’s FSU’s Keara Rutz and Torrey Van Winden (10-0), USC’s Julia Scoles and Hailey Harward (6-0) and TCU’s Hailey Brockett and Olivia Blackburn (6-0).

At No. 3, it’s FSU’s Sara Putt and Maddie Anderson (10-0), TCU’s Rochelle Scott and Maria Gonzalez (6-0), FIU’s Lina Bernier and Gina Lipscomb (5-0), and LMU’s Savannah Slattery and Jessie Prichard (5-0).

At No. 4, it’s South Carolina’s Jess Vastine and Jordan Smith (8-0), and Grand Canyon’s Allanis Navas and Paula Hoffman (5-0).

And, at No. 5, it’s FSU’s Kate Privett and Jenna Johnson (6-0) and USC’s Nicole Nourse and Audrey Nourse (6-0).

 

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