GULF SHORES, Alabama — The two storied athletic programs from Los Angeles have played each other 20 times to decide nationals titles, twice in beach volleyball. And they split those.
So when top-seeded UCLA plays third-seeded USC on Sunday for the National Collegiate Beach Championship crown, the battle should be all that and more.
UCLA (40-3) and USC (31-5) have played four times this season.
USC won their first meeting, 3-2 at USC on March 5.
UCLA won 3-2 three weeks ago at Cal Poly.
Five days later, at UCLA, the Bruins won 4-1.
And then UCLA won 3-0 on April 28 in the Pac-12 Championship at Stanford.
What’s more, since the NCAA took over the beach championships from the AVCA in 2016, it’s been all USC or UCLA.
USC won in 2016 and 2017.
UCLA won in 2018 and beat USC in the 2019 final.
The event was canceled in 2020, and USC won in 2021 — beating UCLA — and 2022. Last year the Women of Troy beat Florida State to finish 37-1.
UCLA advanced Saturday with victories over eighth-seeded Cal and No. 4 Florida State.
USC knocked out sixth-seeded Loyola Marymount and then battled a three-set win on court 5 for a tough win over No. 2 TCU.
“This team has done it all year,” USC coach Dain Blanton said. “When one team loses at a certain position another team steps up. And that’s how we’ve been so effective and hopefully we can finish it for one more.”
So it’s UCLA vs. USC. USC leads the overall series 22-17.
“We’ve played USC more than anybody this year and both teams know each other well,” UCLA coach Stein Metzger said. “However, we have not played each other on harder packed sand.
“Because of that I expect to see a lot of hard-hitting action and, of course, the emotions will be running high. We’re asking them to stay disciplined and trust their training and each other.
“Should be a great final.”
The championship match will be shown on ESPN at noon Eastern and also available on ESPN+.
The first match Saturday was in the round-of-16 between sixth-seeded LMU and 11th-seeded Hawai’i. It was scheduled for Friday, but was weathered out.
As a result, Hawai’i was playing at what was 3 a.m. to the BeachBows. LMU came away with a 3-1 victory, winning on court 5 (Madi Firnett-Isabelle Tucker) and court 4 (Chloe Hooker-Cassie Chinn) and finishing it on court 3 (Jacinda Ramirez-Isabelle Reffel). Hawai’i’s Riley Wagoner and Kylin Loker won on court 2.
Hawai’i ended its season 27-9.
Then the quarterfinals began.
UCLA ousted eighth-seeded Cal in four, winning on courts 2, 4 and 5. The Bears, who advanced with a win over Long Beach State, ended their season 29-10, the most victories in program history.
Florida State and fifth-seeded LSU staged some tough battles this season, and with it all on the line the Seminoles won 3-0 but all five courts were either in or going to a third. FSU clinched it with victories on 1, 3 and 5. LSU’s season ended 27-13.
TCU bounced Stanford 3-0. The Horned Frogs had sweeps on courts 1 and 3 and won in three on 5. Stanford’s season ended 29-13.
In the last quarterfinal, USC went four with LMU. LMU’s Madi Firnett and Isabelle Tucker beat Olivia Bakoa and Gabby Walker in two sets, but USC took care of business with victories by Madison White and Madison Shields on court 2 Megan Kraft and Laynie Maple on 1 and then Audrey and Nicole Nourse on 3, where they fought to a 21-19, 16-21, 15-10 victory. LMU’s season ended 29-9.
The semifinals came down to the top four seeds.
UCLA took the first set on four of the five courts against Florida State and quickly wrapped things up.
Marlie Monserez and Jessie Smith took a 21-14, 21-16 win on court 4 over FSU’s Audrey Koenig and Caitlin Moon. On court 1 Lexy Denaburg and Maggie Boyd beat FSU’s Maddie Anderson and Paige Kalkhoff 21-18, 24-22. The Bruins clinched with a 21-14, 21-18 win by Abby Van Winkle and Peri Brennan on court 2 over the Seminoles’ Anna Long and Jordan Polo.
Florida State, which ousted UCLA from last year’s tournament, ended its season 32-9, which included splitting two regular-season matches with UCLA.
USC was taken to the limit by TCU in the second semifinal.
The Trojans took the lead by winning on court 4 as Jenna Johnson and Ashlyn Rasnick-Pope beat Maria Gonzalez and Ana Vergara, 21-19, 21-16. But TCU went up 2-1 with victories on No. 1 (Daniela Alvarez and Tania Moreno beat Kraft and Maple 21-19, 21-19) and No. 2 (Anhelina Khmil and Kate Privett beat Shields and White 21-13, 21-19.
USC tied the dual 2-2 when the Nouse twins beat Hailey Hamlett and Sutton MacTavish 21-15, 29-27.
It all came down to court 5, where Oliva Bakos and Gabby Walker and TCU’s Hailey Brocket and Rochelle Scott were battling it out. Everyone flocked to their court and watched the USC pair come away with a 21-23, 21-16, 15-12 victory.
“That’s why you play, for that final match where Gabby Walker and Olivia Bakos were battling into the third set and the decider for the dual,” Blanton said. “The atmosphere was so electric. There was such a buzz and you could hear a pin drop at certain times. You can’t emulate that. That just happens.”
TCU finished its season 37-3. The Horned Frogs were 29-0 when they took their first loss, which was to UCLA in San Luis Obispo on April 14. They also lost to GCU in the CCSA tournament, but beat the Lopes in the final.
The defeat also marked the beginning of a long hiatus for Alvarez and Moreno. The pair will now go to Spain and try to make their country’s Olympic team and will take a redshirt for next school year. So will Maria Gonzales, who will pair with Grand Canyon’s Allanis Navas and they will try to make the Puerto Rican Olympic team.
All plan to return to school.
“It’s a unique situation and we’re really excited for them,” TCU coach Hector Guiierrez said. “We support the movement. If you have a chance to go to the Olympics, why not?”
Thanks to legendary USC sports information director Tim Tessalone for doing the research on USC vs. UCLA for national (not necessarily NCAA) titles.
As best as he could come up with, the two schools have decided 20 national crowns and UCLA leads 12-8.
In addition to the 1-1 record in beach volleyball finals, that includes 3-1 in favor of UCLA in men’s volleyball and 2-0 in favor of USC in women’s indoor volleyball.
UCLA holds a 4-3 lead in men’s water polo and a 4-1 lead in women’s water polo.