GULF SHORES, Ala. — USC left no doubt.
For that matter, after the Nos. 3 and 5 teams won their matches, it was a race between the pairs playing 1, 2 and 4 to see who would clinch the inaugural NCAA Beach Championship for the Women of Troy.
Who else but Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes, who won their 73rd consecutive match to go 48-0 this season? They beat Florida State’s Julie Brown and Jace Pardon 21-5, 21-10 to set up a celebration that started on center court, continued through the awards cermony and finished with a dip in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hughes and Claes talked about the streak and winning it all as USC finished 34-2.
The two schools played each other twice previously, the first in March when FSU won on USC’s home court in five, and, of course, on Saturday, when the Women of Troy put Florida State into a must-win Sunday-morning match against UCLA. That loss at home for USC was one of only two this season, the other coming a week earlier at Pepperdine, which also made this eight-team field.
Veteran USC coach Anna Collier said simply, “This is what it’s all about.”
Florida State counterpart Brooke Niles would have liked to have won, but knows the Seminoles had a great season. They finished 32-3, losing twice this weekend to USC and once in a late-March Florida tournament to Hawaii, which was also part of this NCAA field.
Florida State almost definitely had to win at 2, 3 and 4, given that Hughes/Claes was almost a foregone conclusion. The match for No. 3 as a fierce battle, but Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler grinded to a 23-21, 18-21, 15-10 victory over FSU’s Vanessa Friere and Sierra Sanchez, who almost single-handedly carried her team in the second and was big for the start of the second. But that was when USC’s Wheeler played as well as could be imagined. The pair talked about it and what the victory feels like.
Finally, the team they called ZoeJo — Zoe Nightingale and Jo Kremer — was fabulous at No. 5, improving to 32-6 overall by winning their 17th in a row.
Nightingale, the good-humored transfer from UCLA who won an NCAA indoors title as a freshman for the Bruins in 2011, finished her career as a USC grad student with another title Sunday. This is her take:
Here’s a note about Nightingale’s achievement: She is not the first UCLA volleyball player to join USC and win a beach title. Meg Norton did it previously, but her title in the sand was the AVCA championship, so Nightengale is now the first to win NCAA crowns for both schools. And if you have any doubt about how the teams get along, although the rivalry is fierce, USC and UCLA shared the same charter flight to and from Gulf Shores. USC was the defending AVCA champion, so history repeated itself in a way. Not only was this USC’s 124th national title and 101st as a member of the NCAA, which includes winning the first NCAA women’s indoor volleyball championship in 1981, but USC also won the AIAW national title in 1980.
By the numbers
Day 3 Results (click on the match for the boxscores): Match 13 Florida State 3, UCLA 1 Match 14: Southern California 3, Florida State 0 2016 All-Tournament Team: No. 1 Pair: Southern California #14 Sara Hughes #3 Kelly Claes No. 2 Pair: Arizona #1 Jianna Bonomi #10 Katarina Schulz No. 3 Pair: Hawaii #3 Ginger Long #10 Mikayla Tucker No. 4 Pair: UCLA #5 Zana Muno #55 Jessyka Ngauamo No. 5 Pair: Southern California #25 Jo Kremer #33 Zoe Nightingale Total Attendance: Championship Day: 1,890 Championship Weekend: 5,915
Photo of USC celebrating the clinching victory by Eric Bouscher