This year was different.
Until it wasn’t.
UCLA beach volleyball became the first team in NCAA history to down the juggernauts at USC, as well as achieving a 24-straight dual-victories school record.
The Bruins entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 seed with a chance of upending the Trojans for the national title.
Then, the postseason followed a familiar script.
An early upset once again sent the Bruins to the loser’s bracket where they had a season-ending 3-1 loss to the Florida State Seminoles for the second straight year.
“We just ran into very tough teams,” said coach Stein Metzger. “But it was a great experience for our young team to be in a lot of neck-and-neck battles.”
The Bruins will only lose senior Jordan Anderson and graduate student Kamila Tan, the program’s first beach-only player, to graduation and return the core of their starters.
Experience from 2016, when UCLA went 22-8, to 2017, when they improved to 30-6, wasn’t the only reason for the team’s improvement.
The unity and common goal propelled the team toward its best season in program history.
“I think we were better prepared for this tournament. I saw so much growth from last year to this year,” Anderson said. “The girls are more on board this year and we knew what to expect. We had that goal in mind the entire year.”
With only Anderson and Tan leaving, the young UCLA team will have the opportunity to continue growing and competing for a national championship next year.
Sophomores Megan and Nicole McNamara are back for their junior years with another season anchoring the No. 1 court under their belts.
Two-time NCAA champion USC will lose the Pac-12′s Pair of the Year, seniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes, to graduation, leaving the McNamaras, who earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors, as one of the more battle-tested teams in the conference.
“Next year, we will have some more experienced players coming back and they’ll be helping us,” said junior Elise Zappia. “We all had such a good mentality about it and embraced the challenge, and grew a lot stronger because of it.”
The experience will also be supported by young talent.
The Bruins signed three incoming freshmen – Cami Sanchez, Jamie McQuarrie and Megan Muret – with letters of intent for next season to fill the spots left by Tan and Anderson.
With the experience and the incoming talent, UCLA is primed to end next season much differently than it did this one – in the championship match.