As expected, top-ranked and defending-national-champion USC is the top seed in the National Collegiate Beach Championship that begins Friday in Gulf Shores, Ala.
And Pac-12 rival UCLA, which finally beat the Trojans for the first time this past Friday to end their 62-match winning streak, got the No. 2 seed.
If they meet again, it will be in next Sunday’s title match.
First, though, Southern Cal (34-1) plays eighth-seeded South Carolina (23-9) in a battle of USCs. The Trojans won 5-0 at South Carolina March 25.
“SC is the litmus test for everyone,” UCLA coach Stein Metzger said. “To win that many matches in a row and carry the banner for two years in going unbeaten. So it shows that we continue to improve and get better throughout the season. We’re talking about a pretty young team that has improved a lot over the year. I think that builds another layer of confidence and we could continue to get better this week.”
UCLA (29-4) plays No. 7-seeded LSU (26-6), a team that was probably the last one out a year ago. UCLA, whose only losses this season were three times to USC and to Pepperdine, beat LSU 3-2 in Manhattan Beach on March 11.
UCLA is led by the McNamara twins, Canadian sophomores Nicole and Megan, who are 26-6 at the No. 1 pair.
Fourth-seeded Florida State (27-7) faces No. 5 Hawai’i (25-5), with the winner getting the USC-USC winner. The Seminoles won at Hawai’i 3-2 on March 17.
And in the other match, No. 3-seeded Pepperdine (24-3) plays sixth-seeded Long Beach State (25-8). Pepperdine’s losses this season were to USC, Hawai’i and Florida State. The Waves beat Long Beach 3-2 on March 16 and 3-2 again on April 5.
The field was selected from the 65 NCAA institutions sponsoring the sport of beach volleyball. Three teams were selected from the East Region (Florida State, LSU, South Carolina) and three teams were selected from the West Region (USC, UCLA, Pepperdine). The remaining two teams were selected at-large from the teams across the country. All eight teams were then seeded.
In the Pac-12 tournament, UCLA beat USC 3-2 in the winners bracket semifinals and advanced into the final. USC had to go to the losers bracket and beat Washington before getting another crack at the Bruins and won another thriller 3-2, after which the Trojans celebrated in a dogpile.
Beating USC, “adds another level of confidence,” Metzger said. “Even though we had never beaten SC, our team remained confident it was going to happen. Every time we played them they were like, ‘This is the time we’re going to beat ‘em.’ I think that shows what kind of personalities we have on this team.”
First up for the Bruins is LSU coached by former USC player Russell Brock.
“They’re a great young team,” Metzger said. “Russell and I have become friends. We played against each other in college, he was at SC and I was at UCLA. We’ve become friends on the recruiting trail and as soon as the bracket came out I sent him a text that I’m stoked to be able to play against a team with class and leadership and that under his leadership he’s created a really nice group. And they’re playing great and had a 24-match win streak and I know it’s going to be a great battle.”
This is the second year of the tournament as an NCAA event after first being conducted by the AVCA. South Carolina is also a first-time participant.
“In general the sport continues to gain ground by large margins,” said Metzger, whose Bruins lost in the semifinals last year to Florida State. “The level from this year is way greater than last year and way greater than the year before.
“Just from talking to lay people and fans, they can’t believe how good the level has gotten in such a short period of time. It’s a great time for our sport and it’s certainly a fun time to coach.”