May 8, 2016
The USC women’s beach volleyball team defeated top-seeded Florida State for the second time in as many days to win the inaugural NCAA title in the sport.
GULF SHORES, Ala. – Behind the unbeaten pairing of juniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, the USC beach volleyball program proved it remains the nation’s best, no matter which organization sanctions the sport.
The second-seeded Trojans (34-2) won the inaugural NCAA beach volleyball championship Sunday, sweeping top-seeded Florida State (32-3) for the second time in as many days, 3-0. The Trojans, who also won the AVCA national title in 2015 before the sport had an official NCAA championship designation, finished the season on a 30-match win streak.
Claes (El Dorado High) and Hughes (Mater Dei) defeated Florida State’s Julie Brown and Jace Pardon, 21-15, 21-10, to complete a 48-0 season and extend their two-season winning streak to 73 matches. The All-Americans dropped only one set all season and have dropped just six during their 73-match run.
The Trojans dropped just one point in their four dual matches at the tournament.
It is USC’s 124th team national title in all sports and 101st NCAA championship, and the Trojans repeated a piece of history the school’s women’s indoor volleyball team accomplished in 1981 as the inaugural NCAA champions. That team also won the previous national title (the 1980 AIAW title).
USC’s first point Sunday came from Court 5, where Jo Kremer and Zoe Nightingale earned their 17th straight win, defeating FSU’s Nikki Esposito and Macy Jerger, 21-14, 21-12. At the No. 3 position, juniors Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler fought hard to get a 23-21 win over Vanessa Freire and Sierra Sanchez in the first set. A four-point lead at 16-12 in the second wasn’t enough as the Seminole duo came back to win, 21-18. The third sent went to a nine-all tie before Martin and Wheeler scored a 6-1 run to cap a 15-10 win.
Following the match-clinching victory by Claes and Hughes, play was stopped at the second and fourth courts. On Court 2, junior Sophie Bukovec and senior Alexa Strange led Victoria Paranagua and Kristina Pellitteri, 1-0, in the match with a 21-13 win in the first set, but trailed, 17-16, in the second. On Court 4, sophomore Jenna Belton and freshman Abril Bustamante also won their first set, 21-13, over Katie Horton and Annie Montgomery, and led the second, 17-16, when play was halted.
Florida State reached the final by defeating fourth-seeded UCLA, 3-1, in Sunday’s first match. The Bruins (22-8) had staved off elimination in three matches, defeating No. 8 Stetson (3-2), No. 3 Pepperdine (3-2) and No. 5 Hawai’i (3-0) after dropping their tournament opener to Hawaii.
Florida State earned the first point against UCLA when Nikki Esposito and Macy Jerger defeated Reily Buechler and Julie Consani, 21-16, 21-15, on Court 5.
UCLA evened the dual when Ivey Schmitt and Kamila Tan topped FSU’s Kristina Pellitteri and Victoria Paranagua, 21-13, 21-14, on Court 2.
Julie Brown and Jace Pardon gave Florida State a 2-1 lead with a tightly-contested win over UCLA’s freshman pair of Megan McNamara and Nicole McNamara, 21-19, 24-22.
FSU clinched the win when Vanessa Freire and Sierra Sanchez defeated UCLA’s Izzy Carey and Elise Zappia, 19-21, 21-15, 15-11, on Court 3.
UCLA’s undefeated duo of Jessyka Ngauamo and Zana Muno was leading the Seminoles’ Katie Horton and Annie Montgomery, 17-21, 21-17, 5-3, when play was suspended.