LOS ANGELES — A tradition like no other. Well, at least in NCAA women’s volleyball.
After all, where else could you have pros April Ross and Geena Urango playing against the best college pair in history, Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes?
For the record, Ross and Urango won in three, 15-13 in the third, but it was a battle.
“They’re the future,” Urango said.
The beach season starts in reality Friday with a number of tournaments around the nation, but defending-champion USC got things going Thursday with its Cardinal & Gold Alumni Challenge at its Merle Norman Stadium. It started with a pre-party involving fans, boosters and beach alums, and continued with today’s USC players squaring off against the Women of Troy who came before them. Not that long before them, of course, because this is only the sixth year of the USC program.
While the women finally get sandy, the NCAA men’s season continues with a busy slate Friday after a few results from Thursday. So we’ll start with the men.
MPSF: No. 4 Hawai’i beat visiting No. 14 USC on Thursday 25-20, 25-23, 25-23. The Rainbow Warriors ( 17-2 overall, 8-2 MPSF) play the Trojans (6-11, 5-9) again Friday.
There’s quite a bit of non-conference action ahead, as No. 8 Stanford goes to No. 15 Penn State to play Lees-McRae of Conference Carolinas and No. 13 UCSB plays Penn State of the EIVA. In the league, UC San Diego goes to No. 2 Long Beach State, No. 6 UC Irvine goes to CSUN and Cal Baptist plays at No. 3 BYU.
Hawai’i’s victory was its 12 in a row as it won its 23rd consecutive set. Sophomore opposite Stijn van Tilburg had 17 kills and hit .333. Brett Rosenmeier and Kupono Fey had 10 kills each. Lucas Yoder led USC with 11 kills.
MIVA: There were three matches Thursday, as No. 5 Lewis beat Lindenwood in four, No. 9 Loyola did the same to Quincy and Grand Canyon upset No. 11 Ball State in five. Friday night, top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State plays host to Saint Francis of the EIVA and McKendree goes to the EIVA’s George Mason.
Second-place Lewis improved to 14-3, 8-2 while dropping last-place Lindenwood to 1-14, 1-9, with its 25-21, 24-26, 25-16, 25-23 victory. Trevor Weiskircher had 12 kills and two blocks and Matt Yoshimoto and Tom Beckmann had eight kills each.
Third-place Loyola improved to 10-5, 6-2 and dropped Quincy, tied with Lindenwood for last, to 3-13, 1-9, with its 25-21, 25-16, 21-25, 25-15 victory. Cole Murray had a career-high 12 kills and Ben Plaisted added 10. Anthony Winter had 12 for the home team and David Siebum had 10, but also 10 errors.
Grand Canyon has been knocking on the door lately, taking Ohio State to five last weekend, and finally broke through with its 20-25, 25-21, 25-23, 20-25, 16-14 road victory. It left the Lopes 9-9, 5-4, and Ball State 14-4, 6-3, as the Cardinals saw a three-match winning streak end a day after sweeping Grand Canyon.
Matthew Kinnebrew led GCU with 13 kills and had six blocks and 10 digs while hitting .077. Shaley Saada added 12 kills and five blocks, two solo, and seven digs.
They offset a big effort by Ball State’s Matt Szews, who had a career-high 23 kills in 51 swings and hit .333. He also had five blocks and nine digs and two of his team’s four aces and five of its 21 service errors. Brendan Surane added 13 kills.
EIVA: There are five on tap, including the aforementioned Penn State, Saint Francis and Mason matches. Inside the league, Harvard goes to Saint Francis and Charleston plays at Princeton.
Conference Carolinas: There was one match Thursday as North Greenville swept Emmanuel. Friday, in addition to the aforementioned Lees-McRae match with Stanford, there are two league matches at Pfeiffer goes to Barton and Belmont Abbey plays at Mount Olive. Emmanuel goes out of conference to play Lincoln Memorial
NCAA beach begins: Most teams get going this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Among them, on Zuma Beach, just north of Pepperdine, the No. 4 Waves play host to USC and No. 3 UCLA. on Saturday.
USC’s Claes is pretty excited to get things going. Her team not only won the last two national championships, the AVCA in 2015 and the first NCAA title in 2016, but is ranked No. 1, and she and Hughes are riding a 73-match winning streak.
“It feels like forever. Our offseason is so long,” Claes said. “It’s finally here and I’m stoked.”
In Tucson, No. 6 Arizona is home for Jacksonville and No. 5 Hawai’i on Friday and then Arizona State on Saturday.
Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) plays host to Jacksonville State, Mercer, New Orleans, Louisiana-Monroe, Tulane and Austin Peay.
Florida State and LSU are at Stetson.
Long Beach State has Cal Bakersfield and Irvine Valley. Stanford is home for Saint Mary’s, Pacific, Cal Poly, Portland and Oregon And Georgia State is at St. Augustine, Fla., meeting UNCW, College of Charleston and Spring Hill.
Big fun on Figueroa: USC coach Anna Collier was having a blast on Friday.“I really enjoy this event, especially with all the alumni playing,” Collier said. “And they’re good volleyball players and it’s great volleyball and a lot of fun. I think it’s good for our players to connect to their history. Not everyone gets to do this.”
That wasn’t lost on Urango, the pro beach player who played on the first USC beach team in 2012. She finished her indoor career the previous fall and then got her masters’s degree.
“You never really know or understand what the USC alumni system is all about until you graduate,” Urango said. “You graduate and come back and it’s like you never left. It’s a family and everybody knows everybody. It’s a great environment to come back to. It’s warm and fun and makes me miss it.”
Ross, a four-time indoors All-American who left USC long before it got a beach program, worked hard but played with a smile.
“It’s fun. I want to be involved in USC tradition and half the reason I came to USC was because of the alumni network and to come to events like this is a huge part of having gone to school here,” Ross said.
“It’s also really cool because the team is so good. Honestly, it’s good training for me.”
Playing Claes and Hughes, 48-0 last year, was special, she said.
“They’re very, very good,” Ross said. “I’m not going to say I came in expecting to win that. I want to help them get better, too, and I want to see them win a national championship this year. So I want to be part of that.”
Don’t think that Claes and Hughes didn’t appreciate it.
“It was fun. It’s fun and challenging to play against an Olympian,” Claes said.
“The opportunity to play April Ross and Geena Urango any day makes us so much better,” Hughes said. “I’m so thankful they came out here and they competed so hard against us. We really appreciate it.
Other alums who competed included Tracy Lindquist, Jeanne Vetter, Falyn Fonoimoana, Alexa Strange, Kashi Cormier, Cinnamon Sary, Katie Haller, Antoinette Polk and Emily Young.It was a good way to warm up for the season opener.
“Exactly, because we get our jitters out here and then we’re going to play great, hopefully, against UCLA and Pepperdine this weekend.”
April Ross update: She and partner Kerri Walsh Jennings, of course, won the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. They opened the season at the FIVB event last month in Fort Lauderdale, where they lost in the quarterfinals. That was a very early start to the season, followed by a huge break until competition starts again in May.
“It’s really hard,” she admitted. “I don’t like having an event like that super early in the year and we trained hard but it was short. So I didn’t feel super sharp and I was super motivated afterwards because we lost a really tight one we should have won.
“Then to come back and have all this off time, it’s really hard to capitalize on that motivation. We still have a long time till our next event.”
“I’m doing a lot of fun things, still, like playing in indoors open gyms and snowboarding and stuff,” she said. “Which probably isn’t best for my body, but I have all this free time and I want to have fun and it’s cross-training, too. But it’s not like 100-percent go yet.”
While they don’t play together often, Ross and Urango are close friends and even vacationed together this winter in Europe.
Urango and partner Angela Bensend, nicknamed Team TexMex, are preparing for their third season together on the AVP tour.