The No. 2 UCLA beach volleyball team (26-3) has lost two of its three games this season to one team – No. 1 University of Southern California (30-0).
The Pac-12 championship that runs Thursday through Saturday in Tucson, Arizona, will be yet another opportunity for the Bruins to avenge their defeats.
Previously, UCLA had lost 3-2 at the Pepperdine Kick-Off at Zuma Beach in March and 4-1 at Merle Norman Stadium on Saturday. Both coach Stein Metzger and the players said that USC would be their main competitor at the upcoming championship over the next few days.
Despite that, Metzger said that he felt that UCLA had closed the gap on USC in terms of building the program.
“We’re certainly within range to beat them on any given day if we play well,” Metzger said.
USC has a very experienced team with five seniors and four juniors compared to UCLA whose lineup includes four freshmen and three sophomores. Since the first match against USC this season, UCLA has seen reshuffling of partners.
The pair consisting of senior Jordan Anderson and sophomore Izzy Carey wasn’t formed at the beginning of the season, and since has compiled a 17-1 record. The freshman duo of Savvy Simo and Torrey van Winden that fell to USC in March hasn’t competed together since March 12 against Georgia State.
Still, in UCLA’s last game and the regular season finale, the team’s school-record 24-match winning streak came to an end against the crosstown rivals.
Anderson and Carey recorded UCLA’s only win in straight sets. Anderson expressed her optimism about beating USC this time around, given its lack of home advantage which it had in their previous matchup.
“I think we can catch them off guard,” Anderson said. “They are a team that rides on energy and being on a neutral side will even it out a bit.”
Carey said UCLA has a good chance of winning given how close the previous games have been.
“We’re right there,” Carey said. “If we lock in and focus under pressure we can pull it out.”
Other teams that are on UCLA’s radar, according to Metzger and the players, include No. 8 Arizona (15-8) and No. 19 Washington (7-5). The Wildcats’ No. 2 pair, Olivia Macdonald and Olivia Hallaran, stole a 3-2 win in the third set of their game against Stanford on Friday, which needed 10 extra points to be determined. On the other hand, the Huskies have 2016 women’s volleyball Pac-12 Player of the Year and senior Courtney Schwan, and Metzger said that their top two couples are very powerful and physical.
Last year at the Pac-12 championship, UCLA had to settle for third after falling to Arizona 3-2 in the contender’s bracket semifinal.
Carey believes that things will be different this time around.
“Last year our team was still kind of building, I don’t know if we were all there,” Carey said. “This year we’re going in with more of the mindset that we really do want to win.”