Sunday, May 19

The Aubserver: Conference rivalry would strengthen beach volleyball spirit

Every UCLA sport has a unique rivalry with at least one other Pac-12 school, but beach volleyball could use more conference play to find their best matchup. (Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Every UCLA sport has a unique rivalry with at least one other Pac-12 school, but beach volleyball could use more conference play to find their best matchup. (Aubrey Yeo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Everyone at UCLA hates USC right?

Come November that red vs. blue rivalry becomes even more pronounced ahead of the annual football matchup when Bruins dedicate a night to burning as much Trojan imagery as they can in a giant fire.

But losing to Stanford eight times in a row is sure to make some UCLA football fans see red in a different way.

When it comes to the courts of basketball, however, the Bruin fandom typically focuses its efforts on the Arizona Wildcats. Look no further than both schools’ student bodies camping overnight in recent years, just for a chance to see their bitter rivals taken down, as evidence.

Softball fans share the same ire for Arizona ever since the team ruined UCLA’s chance of a four-peat in 1991.

There’s also women’s water polo with Stanford, gymnastics with Utah. I could go on, but you get the point.

These examples illustrate the importance of conferences in college sports, whether it’s the Pac-12 or the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. It began with playing the same opponents, year after year, and eventually finding one opponent who seems to have your team’s number. After trading a few wins, the constant of facing that bitter rival develops into the crescendo of each season for the fans.

It’s something, however, that hasn’t really been explored in the newest Pac-12-sponsored sport – beach volleyball. So far in the 2016 regular season UCLA has only played two of the other seven Pac-12 schools, No. 1 USC and No. 6 Arizona.

In fact, UCLA’s meeting with Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 championships on Friday will be the first time either program has ever faced the other.

The lack of parity within the Pac-12 might deter conference competition. For example, the defending champions USC, led by two-time AVCA pairs national champion Sara Hughes, could be an unappealing matchup for fledgling teams in the conference. From the Trojans’ standpoint they’d probably prefer a regular season playing higher-caliber teams, hence, probably why they faced seven of the other nine teams in the nation’s top-10-ranked teams this year.

It’s a similar situation for an upstart Bruin team trying to qualify for its first national championship. UCLA has played through a packed regular season schedule of its own, not only facing seven teams in the top 10 and achieving success to establish itself as the No. 4 team in the country, but also put itself on pace to qualify for NCAAs.

It could be argued that UCLA and USC might not have reached the same level of national prominence if their seasons weren’t full of top-tier opponents. A counterargument for this, however, is like other sports, they both could still face highly ranked opponents before or after facing a schedule of conference opponents.

Furthermore, the promise of facing the top teams in a Power Five conference could conceivably be a recruiting draw for the newer programs, improving their talent pool over time and giving the national contenders within the conference a better strength of schedule.

In an interview from last year, current UCLA beach volleyball player Julie Consani mentioned her favorite moment as an athlete happened when she played as a setter for Fullerton and her team broke Big West rival Long Beach State’s 30-year streak.

Hopefully, in a few years, a Pac-12 beach volleyball team will be able to have that feeling too.

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