Manhattan Beach, California, will be the mecca of beach volleyball as it hosts the top programs from both sides of the country in the East Meets West Invitational this weekend.
The Bruins will make the short bus ride trip from the comforts of Westwood in what promises to be a competitive event.
Along with No. 4 UCLA (2-2), the West will be represented by the defending national champion and top team in the country No. 1 USC (2-0). Fellow California schools No. 3 Pepperdine (1-1) and No. 6 Long Beach State (2-0) will also be on hand.
The East Coast will be represented by last year’s runner-up No. 2 Florida State as well as No. 7 Georgia State, No. 10 LSU and No. 12 Florida International.
The Bruins will square off against all four teams from the East that are embarking onto the western side of the beaches.
Two pairs of matches – against LSU and FIU on Saturday and against Georgia State and FSU on Sunday – will be telling for a team that, while fairly experienced, are transitioning with five freshmen.
UCLA is coming off a strong showing against a pair of top-five teams in USC and Pepperdine despite losing 2-3 in both matches. In the same competition last year, UCLA was swept twice 0-5.
Despite the two losses, coach Stein Metzger knows his team is making strides in the right direction.
“My expectation is that we’re going to get better throughout the year,” Metzger said. “We’re starting five freshmen.”
Last weekend aside, the Bruins are focused on the challenge at hand, knowing very well that this is an opportunity to measure themselves up against strong opposition.
“This is a good litmus test for us in terms of how we match up against some of the East Coast teams,” Metzger said. “FIU reloaded with a bunch of international players that are quite good. LSU and Georgia State are also strong programs.”
One match in particular will draw the attention of UCLA – Sunday’s match against Florida State.
The second-ranked Seminoles defeated the Bruins in the semifinal of last year’s inaugural NCAA Women’s Beach Volleyball Championship. Failing to win a single match against the Seminoles is something that the team hasn’t forgotten.
Sophomore Nicole McNamara, who, alongside her twin sister Megan, plays at the number one court, typically set for the competing team’s best duo, understands the opportunity at hand.
“We are all really excited to have a rematch against FSU after losing to them in the semifinals. Not only that, we are also looking forward to getting the chance to compete against other East Coast schools,” McNamara said.
The Bruins know that this weekend will prove to be telling of where they currently are and where they need to be as the season hits its full swing.
“We haven’t beaten FSU in UCLA’s history yet. At some point we’re going to beat them. If that happens (this weekend) it will show that we’re making good progress,” Metzger said.
By the end of the weekend, Metzger will have a better idea of the direction in which the team is heading. While the season is young, the Bruins hope to measure up well against top East Coast schools.