GULF SHORES, Ala. — It was a race to the finish.
No. 2 seed UCLA beach volleyball (32-3) broke a 2-2 tie to defeat No. 7 seed Hawai’i (26-10) in the first round of the NCAA championship in Gulf Shores, Alabama, on Friday morning. Three courts went to simultaneous third sets, with both teams needing to win two before the other.
The Rainbow Wahine won on court four, followed by a Bruin victory on court three, leaving seniors Nicole and Megan McNamara on court one to decide the dual.
After the pair had missed five serves in the third set, Megan McNamara stepped back to the service line with a 19-18 lead.
This time, she hit an ace to win the dual.
“I feel like we escaped the gauntlet,” said coach Stein Metzger. “The first round of NCAAs is always a little dicey because people have been thinking about it for a whole week, if not the whole year. (No. 1 seed) USC came up short earlier today and we were close to coming up short too.”
Nicole and Megan McNamara prevailed in the deciding dual 20-22, 21-15, 20-18 after falling in the same situation last week against USC in the Pac-12 championship.
“We just tried to focus on our connection and celebrate each point,” Megan McNamara said. “This time, we just tried to block out all the noise – we didn’t look up at the scoreboard or look at what was happening on other courts.”
Despite the victory, the Bruins trailed early on all five courts before taking two of the five first sets.
Senior Izzy Carey and freshman Lindsey Sparks gave UCLA its first point of the dual with a 21-16, 21-9 win on court five.
Senior Sarah Sponcil and junior Lily Justine fell 22-20, 21-19 on court two, tying the dual.
The matches on courts one, three and four went to three sets after two Bruin pairs bounced back from first set losses. Junior Savvy Simo and sophomore Lea Monkhouse were the first to fall to Hawai’i on court four, 21-16, 12-21, 15-9.
Senior Zana Muno and freshman Abby Van Winkle won the third set on court three to tie the dual at two – making court one the deciding match. Muno said the win in a close situation will help the Bruins this weekend.
“For the team, it’s good to boost our confidence,” Muno said. “Last week we lost those two duals when it came down to the clutch, and this shows us that we can beat any team.”
UCLA was the first higher seed to win their opening match in the NCAA championship after USC and No. 4 seed Pepperdine were upset this morning. No. 3 seed Florida State defeated No. 6 seed Cal Poly 3-0 in the following match.
The Bruins will play the Seminoles at 2 p.m in a rematch of last year’s NCAA championship final.