HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Another victory. Now a big road trip.

“So excited. Oh my gosh,” said Kelly Claes after she and Sara Hughes won the USA Volleyball Collegiate Beach Championships on Saturday.

“I need to get packing,” Hughes added. “We leave tomorrow.”

A week after capping the greatest NCAA beach-volleyball career ever as USC won the National Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship in Gulf Shores, Ala., the dynamic pair beat USC teammates Nicolette Martin and Terese Cannon 19-21, 21-13, 15-11. That’s the same Martin and Cannon who won the NCAA clinching point for the Trojans.

And then it was on to Rio for an FIVB event, the first pro event for Claes and Hughes as graduates.

“We’re really excited to compete for team USA,” Hughes said. “We’re excited to get out as professionals and show the world who we really are.”

On the men’s side, the winners were Lucas Yoder, also of USC, and Michael Saeta of UC Irvine. They beat UCLA teammates Hagen Smith and Jackson Bantle 21-16, 21-13.

The women’s bronze went to Pepperdine’s Corinne Quiggle and Brittany Howard, who beat Delaney Ross and Chelsea Rohan of Georgia State 21-17, 21-11. Earlier, Quiggle and Howard lost in the semifinals to Claes and Hughes 18-21, 21-14, 15-11.

Cincinnati Christian’s Logan Webber and Davenport’s Nathan Vander Meer won the men’s bronze, beating Brett Rosenmeier and Colton Cowell of Hawai’i 21-15, 12-21, 15-11. Webber and Vander Meer lost in the semis to Yoder and Saeta 21-16, 21-18.

USA Beach Collegiate pairs medalists from L to R: Silver: Nicolette Martin and Terese Cannon, USC, Gold: Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, USC, Bronze: Corinne Quiggle and Brittany Howard, Pepperdine/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
USA Beach Collegiate pairs medalists from left, Nicolette Martin and Terese Cannon, Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, and Corinne Quiggle and Brittany Howard/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Claes and Hughes survived a strong challenge from their teammates.

“I think it’s more fun. Training against these girls daily, we all know each others’ tendencies, it makes it more challenging and more fun,” Claes said of playing their teammates. “We love competing against these girls, they played amazing and it was really fun to be out there and play them in the finals.”

After dropping a tight first set behind strong blocking by Cannon and Martin rifling serves down the line in a stiff Hermosa breeze, Hughes talked about how they turned the match around.

“We realized that we weren’t being as aggressive as we should. We looked at each other and said, ‘This is it, it’s our last match, we have to step it up.’

“Nicolette and Terese played absolutely phenomenal, they know us really well, but we just stepped on the gas pedal a little bit more and brought up our energy. It was all on our side, we just needed to change our game, and that’s what we did.”

Sara Hughes (pictured) and Kelly Claes will begin to compete internationally, starting in FIVB Rio de Janeiro/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
Sara Hughes stretches out for a dig in the semifinals/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

The men’s final was a study in contrasts. The 6-foot-5 Saeta and 6-4 Yoder had played together for all of three days. The pair of 6-1 Bantle and 6-1 Smith has played together for over a decade.

UC Irvine's Michael Saeta dives for a trickler serve in semifinal competition/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
UC Irvine’s Michael Saeta dives for a trickler serve in semifinal competition/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Despite a steady breeze and deep Hermosa sand, Saeta and Yoder’s indoor pedigree ruled the day in a 21-16, 21-13 win. In set one, Saeta and Yoder jumped out to an 8-2 lead as Bantle and Smith had difficulty staying in system and avoiding the larger block.

In set two, both teams sided out consistently to seven-all, before tough serving by Saeta and Yoder cracked the Bruins.

Saeta told how their team got together.

“It’s kind of a funny story,” he admitted. “We’ve played against each other now for four years. Lucas has always been a really good indoor player that we hated playing against at Irvine. This past year, I was playing opposite, and he was playing outside hitter and we kind of had a little bit of a duel in the second set, it ended up 42-40, and after that, we texted each other, and said, ‘Hey, we should probably play a little beach.’ That’s how we ended up here.”

Their game plan was simple.

“Pass the ball in front of you and set it straight up and down,” Yoder said. With one up, and our indoor mentality, we can put it away every time. With one up on the beach, it should be easy to side out at a high level.”

“In order to win against a team like that, we had to serve consistently,” Saeta said. “We tried to keep our service errors down to keep the pressure on them. We’re pretty big, we’ll get our blocks and our digs, as long as we keep the pressure on them, we’ll be able to make runs. We tried to limit our service errors, in the wind especially. Even a float serve will be good enough with the wind on a day like today.

“If we can get a transition swing, with one blocker, compared to the two blockers we’re used to, we should be able to score on that almost every time.”

USC's Lucas Yoder changes directions and makes a flipper dig/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
USC’s Lucas Yoder changes directions and makes a flipper dig/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

As a new team, “We tried to improve and develop along the way and learn some shots,” Yoder said. “I learned a lot from watching the girls, watching Sara and Kelly play. We’re better hitters indoors, so we have that, when we pass, we pass in front of us, but we’re not very shot-oriented in transition. We’re just trying to develop our high-line shots, cut shots, and we love to hit. So we just hit most of the time.”

That’s probably it for the beach, however.

”I think we’re going to focus on indoor,” Yoder said. “We plan to practice with the national team this summer, and focus on a professional career overseas.”

U20 USA women win: The U.S. Women’s Junior National Team, with its spot into the 2017 FIVB Women’s U20 World Championship already secured, defeated Argentina 27-25, 25-22, 25-22 in the Women’s U20 Pan American Cup on Saturday in San Jose, Costa Rica.

The team, led by Texas coach Jerritt Elliott, got 11 kills, four blocks and an ace from USC’s Khalia Lanier. Minnesota middle Regan Pittman  had nine kills in 11 swings and three blocks. UCLA opposite Mackenzie May had nine kills, a block and and ace.

And Thayer Hall, who is from South Carolina and plays for Upward Stars and will be a senior at Palmetto High School, was named the tournament MVP. She had six kills and a block in the final.



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