May 7, 2016
USC’s Sara Hughes, left, and Kelly Claes will try to lead the Trojans to the inaugural NCAA beach volleyball title on Sunday when they face either Florida State or UCLA in the final.
GULF SHORES, Ala. – The second-seeded USC beach volleyball team defeated top seed Florida State, 3-1, in the winner’s bracket semifinal of the inaugural NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship on Saturday. The victory avenged an early-season loss to the Seminoles and sent the Trojans to the national title match Sunday at 1 p.m. PDT (TBS).
USC (33-2) set a new program record with its 29th consecutive dual victory, cementing it with a win from its top pair of juniors Kelly Claes (El Dorado High) and Sara Hughes (Mater Dei). The duo earned their 72nd consecutive win (dating to 2015) and improved to 47-0 this season with a 21-14, 21-19 win over the Seminoles’ Julie Brown and Jace Pardon.
The Trojans scored the final point but Florida State (31-2) scored the first when Vanessa Freire and Sierra Sanchez narrowly edged USC juniors Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler, 21-19, 24-22, on Court 3. The Trojans evened the match with a hard-fought victory on Court 5. There, sophomore Jo Kremer and senior Zoe Nightingale cruised to a 21-14 win in their first set against Nikki Esposito and Hailey Luke, but let a five-point lead slip away in the second set. The Seminoles took set point at 21-20 and 22-21, before the Trojans closed out a 24-22 win.
On Court 4, sophomore Jenna Belton and freshman Abril Bustamante bested Florida State’s Katie Horton and Annie Montgomery, 21-17, 21-14, to give USC a 2-1 lead. Claes and Hughes held a sizable lead in the second set but the Seminoles battled back to make it close before Claes ended their comeback hopes on a tip-kill.
Junior Sophie Bukovec and senior Alexa Strange were holding serve on Court 2 with a 21-15 first-set win over Victoria Paranagua and Kristina Pellitteri. It was a tight battle in set two, but the Trojans led, 17-16, when the match was suspended.
USC has a chance to match a feat the school’s indoor volleyball team completed in 1980 and ’81. In 1981, the USC women won the first NCAA title under head coach Chuck Erbe. In the previous year, that squad won the 1980 AIAW crown, which was the final unsanctioned championship. The USC beach team won the final non-NCAA title (2015 AVCA) and is now in position to become the first NCAA champion.
Fourth-seeded UCLA (22-7) stayed in the hunt for the national title as well, defeating third-seeded Pepperdine (20-5) in a 3-2 thriller, then avenging a first-round loss to fifth-seeded Hawaii (18-10) with a 3-0 victory. UCLA will face Florida State on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. PDT (TruTV) with the winner advancing to face USC in the final.
The Bruins and Waves staged one of the best battles of the tournsment.
Pepperdine took the first point on Court 3 when Corinne Quiggle and Skylar Caputo defeated Izzy Carey and Elise Zappia, 21-19, 21-17.
UCLA’s freshman duo of Megan McNamara and Nicole McNamara evened things with a 22-20, 21-17 victory over Taylor Racich and Heidi Dyer on Court 1. Pepperdine reclaimed the lead at 2-1 when Delaney Knudsen and Kaity Bailey defeated Ivey Schmitt and Kamila Tan, 22-20, 21-19, on Court 2.
UCLA’s Jessyka Ngauamo and Zana Muno defeated the Waves’ Madalyn Roh and Anika Wilson, 21-19, 23-21, on Court 4 to tie the match. The Bruins took the decisive point on Court 5 when Reily Buechler and Julie Consani got their second straight win as a new duo, outlasting Samantha Cash and Sarah Seiber, 21-19, 15-21, 15-12.
Against Hawaii, UCLA earned the first point on Court 4 when Ngauamo and Muno defeated Lara Schreiber and Hannah Zalopany, 21-15, 22-20. Carey and Zappia topped Hawaii’s Ginger Long and Mikayla Tucker, 20-22, 21-19, 15-11, on Court 3, then Schmitt and Tan defeated Nikki Taylor and Ka’iwi Schucht, 18-21, 21-12, 15-12, on Court 2 to clinch the 3-0 victory.
UCLA’s pairs on Courts 1 and 5 were in the third sets of their matches when the Bruins clinched the victory, and play was suspended.