MANHATTAN BEACH, California — LSU coach Russell Brock normally takes the time to do any interview. Sunday, we agreed we would catch up later in the week.
That’s because it’s hard to interview someone sprinting to a car and racing to the airport. More on that in a bit.
When the sand settled by the Manhattan Beach Pier on Sunday afternoon, after a perfect-weather weekend of college beach volleyball, here’s how things stood. And good luck to the voters in the respective polls and, in a few weeks, the NCAA seeding committee:
AVCA No. 1 UCLA, the host for the tournament, is 21-2 after losing twice in three days to TCU and then beating LSU, making Brock scramble.
Second-ranked TCU is 28-1 because it got knocked off by No. 3 USC on Sunday.
No. 3 USC, which lost to UCLA in the first match of the season, is now 19-1 after weekend victories over No. 6 LSU, No. 9 Hawai’i, TCU, and No. 15 FIU.
Fourth-ranked Florida State was not here. The Seminoles, 19-5 with losses to UCLA, TCU and USC, were in Jacksonville, Florida, where they went 3-1 but lost to No. 18 Pepperdine.
No. 5 Loyola Marymount is 19-3 after losing here in five to TCU and No. 6 LSU before beating FIU in five and then sweeping Utah.
And LSU? So close but so far. The Tigers are 21-6. Here they lost to USC 4-1, beat Loyola Marymount, beat No. 9 Hawai’i in five, and then were tied with with UCLA 2-2 just after 3 p.m. Sunday. And on Court 3, Holly Carlton and Reilly Allred were tied with UCLA’s Jaden Whitmarsh and Devon Newberry 1-1 with the match on the line as they prepared for the third set. LSU won the first set 22-20; the Bruins won the second 21-16.
But LSU had a 5 p.m. flight to New Orleans from nearby LAX and things were getting tense. The bus was loaded, the rest of the team and staff were heading to the parking lot, and the decision was made to not play the last set. Suddenly a reversal: Carlton and Allred, Brock and assistant Cati Leak were staying. A ride was ready.
The bad news for LSU: UCLA won the last set 15-13. The good news: The foursome made the flght.
“That’s the first time that’s happened to me where someone had to make a flight and needed to forfeit because of it, and then we figured out a way for just that pair to stay and get them zipped over to the airport,” UCLA coach Stein Metzger said. “I’m glad they had a chance to play, because winning by forfeit is not a win in my book.”
LSU, which had some lineup changes as the regular season heads into the final month, has lost twice to UCLA. The Bruins were undefeated before losing at home Thursday to TCU.
“It was a great opportunity to see TCU for the first time,” Metzger said. “They were undefeated, but they hadn’t played either us or USC yet. So we were curious to see how it would play out.”
TCU won that match on the UCLA campus 4-1, with Daniela Alvarez and Tania Moreno beating Lexy Denaburg and Abby Van Winkle 21-15, 19-21, 15-12 at No. 1. UCLA’s win came at No. 3 when Whitmarsh and Newberry beat Alexis Filiponne and Hailey Hamlett 21-14, 21-18.
TCU won 3-2 on Saturday. Denaburg and Van Winkle won 18-21, 21-18, 15-10 at No. 1. TCU won at No. 2, No. 4 and No. 5, clinching when Megan Muret and Rochelle Scott beat Jessie Smith and Marlie Monserez 22-20, 21-18.
Monserez also was part of an informal Florida indoor-team reunion here. She was a standout setter for the Gators, LSU’s Carlton was a right side, former teammate Paige Hammons played her last season at USC and was on hand, and former Florida middle Rachel Kramer lives in nearby Hermosa Beach and came to watch.
It’s inevitable that TCU and UCLA will meet up next month at some point in Gulf Shores, Alabama, at the NCAA Championship.
“Obviously they’re playing really well right now,” Metzger said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best match against them, so I’m looking forward to the next opportunity. That won’t be here in the regular season.”
TCU coach Hector Gutierrez was pleased with the L.A. trip.
“We did great. We lost today, and you don’t want to lose ever, but we lost to a great team,” Gutierrez said. “We’re OK with that. If we have to lose let’s lose to them. We know what we need to get better at.
“If you look at our schedule, we have the toughest of any team, and we’ve proved that we can beat anybody and that we’re a hard team to beat. That’s what I was trying to do with the schedule to prove to the girls they’re good enough…. They’re good enough to handle it, and the only way (of) showing them was playing the best.
“But, yes, I’m really happy.”
So, too, was Dain Blanton, coach of defending national-champion USC.
“We’re right in the heat of the season and right where we want to be,” Blanton said. “Trying to keep the girls healthy and strong and getting better every time.”
USC looked pretty strong against TCU. The Trojans took a 2-0 lead when Audrey and Nicole Nourse won at No. 4 and Megan Kraft and Sammy Slater won at No. 2. TCU won at No. 5, but USC clinched when Julia Scoles and Delaynie Maple beat Filippone and Hamlett 21-11, 21-19. Latvian Olympian Tina Graudina and Hailey Harward then put an exclamation point on the victory by beating Alvarez and Moreno at No. 1 21-17, 21-17.
“The players are really responding and pushing,” Blanton said.
The crowds were large and included plenty of volleyball dignitaries, including ties to last summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Former UCLA star Sarah Sponcil came to watch her old team, Taylor Crabb dropped by, and LMU assistant coach Angie Akers was the coach for gold-medalists April Ross and Alix Klineman. Among the others on the sand were beach legend Mike Dodd and AVP CEO Al Lau.
“This is a great tournament,” Metzger said. “We haven’t had this tournament for two years now. COVID canceled one of them, and last year it was a little too uncertain, and the beaches weren’t open to get permits.
“I’m really happy that it’s back. I think this is the best tournament because it’s at Manhattan Beach. It’s got a ton of history, it’s a great venue, it’s got the natural amphitheater here with the pier, and people love to play here. And we’re getting the best teams to show up for this tournament, so we’re going to continue to build it and find partnerships to make it bigger and better. I think it’s a great opportunity for all the athletes.”
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