One title down, one more to go.
“We’re very excited that we won this Pac-12 title,” said senior Elise Zappia. “But we’re not here to win a Pac-12 title, we’re here for a national championship.”
No. 1-seeded UCLA beach volleyball (35-3) defeated No. 2-seeded USC (24-12) 3-1 to claim the program’s first-ever Pac-12 championship Saturday afternoon.
“We’re just continuing the success we’ve had these past few weeks,” said coach Stein Metzger. “All of it has to do with the maturity of the team with seniors and juniors leading the team.”
The Bruins defeated the Trojans in the winners final last season, but fell 3-2 in the conference championship game.
“Going home empty-handed (last year) was definitely disappointing,” Zappia said. “I think that it’s made everyone very hungry (this postseason).”
Sophomore Madi Yeomans slammed a kill down center court to clinch the conference title for UCLA. Her partner sophomore, Savvy Simo leapt to hug Yeomans as the rest of the team stormed the courts in celebration.
“(Yeomans) has been so aggressive at the net and siding out lights out,” Zappia said. “So it’s been amazing to see her be called upon and rise to the task.”
The pair won in straight sets with scores of 21-19 and 21-16, forcing the last match on court two to conclude unfinished.
UCLA logged its first point after a straight-sets victory by Zappia and freshman Mac May, winning both sets 21-17. A hitting error into the net by USC’s Jenna Belton gave Zappia the 100th win of her collegiate career – the most by any Bruin in the program’s six years.
“(Zappia) has been such a role model and leader on this team,” said junior Megan McNamara. “(Her 100th win) just shows how hard she’s worked over the past few years.”
However, just like the semifinal match against USC on Saturday morning, freshman Megan Muret and junior Izzy Carey fell to Alexandra Poletto and Haley Hallgren. But Metzger said USC specifically strategized by playing a pair on court five when they normally play higher.
“USC played some of their higher-ranked players at the five position with the idea that they can seal those wins,” Metzger said. “So (Muret) and (Carey) knew they were up against very good players. They fell a little short, but I feel very confident in their ability moving forward.”
Muret and Carey trailed 18-14 in the second set, but could not recover, registering their first back-to-back losses since early March.
Juniors Nicole and Megan McNamara, on the other hand, bounced back from their loss Saturday morning with a win.
“We came out flat this morning,” Megan McNamara said. “We really weren’t happy with the way we played, but we were able to regroup.”
The pair jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the second set, and a high line kill by Megan McNamara sealed the match point for the Bruins’ 2-1 lead.
The matchup against crosstown rival USC was the teams’ fifth meeting this season. UCLA has won all but one, losing 3-2 back in early March. For the past two seasons, the Trojans have been crowned Pac-12 champions and NCAA champions, but will now have to await an at-large bid into the NCAAs.
“USC has won (the conference title) the past couple of years,” Megan McNamara said. “We’re really the team to beat this year.”
UCLA will travel to Gulf Shores, Alabama, as likely the No. 1 seed for the NCAA championship next weekend.