Everyone’s trying to get to what the locals in the region fondly call the Redneck Riveria.
The expanded NCAA Division I Women’s Beach Volleyball Championship starts May 4 in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where 16 teams — double the previous field — will hit the silky white sand on the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s pretty obvious who the favorites are: USC, TCU, UCLA, Florida State, LSU and Loyola Marymount.
But choosing the rest of the field is quite a tournament within itself.
From the NCAA:
Eight teams will be automatic qualifiers. The committee will select two teams from the East Region and two teams from the West Region. The final four teams will be selected at large. All 16 teams will be seeded for the championship.
The eight automatic qualifiers: The winners of the ASUN, Big West, CCSA, Conference USA, OVC, PAC-12, Southland and WCC.
Huntsville, Alabama’s Jon Hunt Park Sand Volleyball Complex will be a busy place. It’s the host site for this week’s ASUN tournament and the following week’s CCSA and Conference USA tournaments.
The NCAA field of 16 will be announced on a selection show on April 30 on NCAA.com.
The tournament begins on Wednesday, May 4, with eight single-elimination matches. The top seed will play No. 16, No. 2 plays No. 15, and so on. Thursday is an off day. On Friday, the tournament picks up the format of the past, double-elimination, with the final on Sunday. The matches Friday are on ESPNU with the action Saturday and Sunday on ESPN2.
Gulf Shores has been the host for the national tournament since the AVCA started it in 2014. It became an NCAA championship in 2016 and will be there again in 2023 and 2024 before moving to Huntington Beach, California.
Here’s how things stand going into conference tournaments:
The tournament begins Friday in Huntsville, Alabama, where AVCA Poll 18th-ranked Stetson is the top seed overall and leads Pool A, while No. 20 FGCU is the second seed and is atop Pool B.
Stetson is in a pool with UNCW, College of Charleston, Mercer, Stephen F. Austin and Eastern Kentucky.
FGCU is in with North Florida (receiving votes), North Alabama, Central Arkansas, Jacksonville, and Jacksonville State.
Since the conference started beach volleyball in 2012, only North Florida (2012, 2013, 2016, 2021) and Stetson (2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019) have won the championship. Stetson got at-large bids to the 2016 and 2019 NCAA tournaments.
The conference championship is April 29 in San Luis Obispo, where No. 13 Cal Poly is the host team. The favorites, all hoping for at-larges if they don’t win, are No. 9 Hawai’i, Cal Poly and No. 12 Long Beach State. Also in the field are CSU Bakersfield (which has gotten poll votes), CSUN, Sacramento State and UC Davis (which has also gotten votes). Hawai’i is the defending champion.
Hawai’i is off this week, but this Friday and Saturday Cal Poly is at Utah, where it plays Arizona, Boise State, Salt Lake Community College and Utah.
Long Beach plays Cal State LA and LMU on Friday and CSUN and CSU Bakersfield on Saturday.
Three of the top six ranked teams in the nation are in the Coast Collegiate Sports Association, No. 2 TCU, No. 5 Florida State, and No. 6 LSU. The tournament starts April 28 in Huntsville, Alabama.
TCU has to be considered one of the three favorites, along with USC and UCLA, to win it all. No one would be surprised to see either FSU or LSU in the Sunday mix in Gulf Shores.
TCU is 36-2 and has lost only to USC and FSU. FSU is 25-8 but has only lost to TCU, USC, UCLA, LMU and Pepperdine. LSU is 27-8 and has lost to Florida Atlantic (No. 10 this week), UCLA, FSU, TCU and USC.
Only No. 19 South Carolina, which plays Erskine on Wednesday, and Tulane, which plays host to Southern Miss, have regular-season matches remaining.
C-USA has three ranked teams, No. 10 Florida Atlantic, No. 14 FIU, and No. 15 Georgia State. Regardless of who wins the conference tournament, which is April 28-20 in Huntsville, all three are strong at-large candidates.
There are two regular-season matches remaining, when Georgia State goes to Coastal Carolina and Southern Miss goes to Tulane on Saturday.
The OVC is a one-bid conference. In league play, UT Martin leads at 4-0, Austin Peay is 3-1, followed by Chattanooga (2-2), Morehead State (1-3) and Eastern Illinois (0-4).
The championship is April 28-30 at Morehead State’s Fazoli’s Breadstick Beach. Austin Peay won the OVC’s inaugural title last season.
The biggest question from the PAC-12: How many teams make it? The tournament is April 27-29 at Bear Down Beach on the University of Arizona campus.
No one would be surprised if UCLA plays USC for the NCAA title.
Stanford, at No. 8, has a strong case to be one of the final four at-larges. Cal, at No. 11, Arizona at No. 17 and Washington (receiving votes) will be in the mix.
UCLA has a strong end to the regular season. First, the Bruins play host to No. 4 Loyola Marymount of the WCC on Wednesday and then go to USC on Friday.
There is a tournament at Stanford Saturday and Sunday that includes Cal, Washington, the WCC’s Saint Mary’s and independent Grand Canyon, which is ranked No. 7.
Arizona plays Cal Poly and Utah at Utah on Friday. Utah also plays Salt Lake Community College and Boise State.
The Southland is another one-bid conference. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and New Orleans are head and shoulders above the rest of the field that includes Houston Baptist, Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls.
The tournament is Friday-Sunday at Third Coast Volleyball in Houston.
Fourth-ranked Loyola Marymount is the class of the West Coast Conference, which hopes for at least another bid for Pepperdine, ranked No. 16 in the most recent poll.
The tournament is April 29-30 at Ocean Park Courts in Santa Monica.
Also in the field are Pacific, Portland, Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and Santa Clara.
LMU — which has lost only to LSU, TCU, Hawai’i and USC and has beaten UCLA — has two matches this week, playing UCLA on Wednesday before playing Cal State Los Angeles and Long Beach State on Friday in Santa Monica.
The Lopes are the only independent in consideration and will be a West Coast at-large. It’s a given that the USC-UCLA loser gets the first West Coast at-large. Grand Canyon should get the second. GCU is 22-6 with losses to USC, UCLA, FSU, LSU and LMU.
The East representatives are Austin Peay indoor and beach coach Taylor Mott, Julie Cribb of the LSU athletic department, and Stetson senior women’s administrator Alicia Queally.
The West reps are USC coach Dain Blanton, Sacramento State beach co-head coach Ed Jackson, and University of San Francisco director of athletics Joan McDermott.
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