When the sand finally cleared this past weekend at UCLA and USC in a highly anticipated NCAA beach volleyball weekend amongst the nation’s top four teams, fourth-ranked UCLA went 4-0, No. 1 USC went 2-2, and both No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 LSU finished 1-3.
“Between the top four teams, it’s anybody’s game,” UCLA coach Stein Metzger said.
It’s difficult to draw conclusions from an early April match, with the West teams at home, and USC’s Julia Scoles held out due to injury. Nevertheless, the parity among the top four teams was undeniable this weekend, with 11 of the 20 matches going three sets, and 25 sets being decided by the minimum two-point margin.
On Saturday, UCLA (15-1) beat LSU twice, while at USC, the Trojans were splitting with Florida State. Then on Sunday, UCLA beat Florida State twice, while LSU and USC split their twinbill.
(Results and a photo gallery by Ed Chan and Mark Rigney follow)
“I think surface had something to play in our matches, because we have a deeper surface than what other people are used to playing in,” Metzger said. “I thought that gave us the advantage.
“My assumption is that when we play them on a hard packed surface it’s a different ball-game, and it’s a toss-up in my mind. But there’s a lot of parity in the top four. I think that’s good for the sport.”
USC coach Dain Blanton honored his team’s fight and downplayed the adversity of lineup changes in pairs 2 and 3, with Scoles out of the lineup. Both the losses by USC (14-2) to FSU and LSU were 3-2.
“I really like the way we fought. If you think about it, I think we lost 17-15 in the third, 15-13 in the third again, and you turn those points around, and we’re undefeated,” Blanton said.
“To be given that opportunity with the altered lineup was very encouraging, we had to make some changes. There’s always something, and that’s why every season is a different adventure, but the way we battled was really impressive.”
Florida State (22-3) lost its first meeting with USC 4-1. Coach Brooke Niles, hoarse from exhorting her players throughout the weekend, was encouraged by the matchups she saw.
“I think we knew that it was going to be a battle. It’s good to test yourself against the strongest teams at their home venues,” Niles said.
“There’s four teams that really have the pieces to win a national championship. We all have to figure out a way to put them all together to be most successful, and I feel that we have those pieces.”
LSU is 17-5 and coach Russell Brock enjoyed having his team tested.
“It was great fun, and a great challenge. Today was a little bit better than yesterday,” Brock said Sunday.
“Coming into it, we knew that traditionally that’s where the power in the sport of beach volleyball has been, USC was stronger this year, and clearly, there will be tight matches across the board in every round. That’s what we expected, that every match on every court was going to be tight, with really good volleyball played at a high level.”