It had been almost a year since her last UCLA beach volleyball practice when Zoë Nightingale returned to Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.
She and fellow UCLA alumna Karsta Lowe surreptitiously watched under the cover of nearby bushes as senior Julie Consani played her last home game on UCLA’s courts.
Nightingale going incognito had nothing to do with the potential awkwardness of facing her former teammates since she joined USC’s program as a graduate transfer student. By this point of the season she’d already managed to be cordial with them.
All Nightingale wanted to do was support her roommate.
“She made me and Karsta swear that we wouldn’t go to her senior day,” Nightingale said. “We wanted to support her, but we would make her nervous.”
A year ago, those roles were reversed on the very same courts.
When Nightingale’s parents weren’t able to attend the game, the former Bruin called on her best friend and then-teammate to fill in for her family during the occasion.
“We realized about halfway through the walk that it looked like Julie was walking me down the aisle, and we started dying laughing,” Nightingale said.
This season, Nightingale has spent her final year of NCAA beach volleyball eligibility practicing in USC’s Merle Norman Stadium while concurrently pursuing a master’s degree in strategic public relations at USC.
Though Nightingale said she would have loved to spend this year continuing to play for the Bruins, she didn’t consider UCLA because the school doesn’t offer a similar graduate degree program, and her educational goals took precedence over her sport.
But the 13 miles between campuses didn’t stop Consani and Nightingale from living together during their final year as NCAA athletes, nor could the storied rivalries between both teams.
“She’s my best friend, so it made sense.” Nightingale said. “After the fact, we thought about the fact that we would be on rival teams. Not that it made any difference, but it wasn’t on the top of our minds when we were choosing to be roommates.”
Despite the belligerence that often pervades one of Los Angeles’ most famous rivalries, the Bruin and Trojan best friends have managed to maintain a peaceful environment in their Brentwood apartment.
“We don’t really fight,” Consani said. “And if we do fight, three minutes later it’s like, ‘Hey, friend?’ across the apartment.”
Even when it comes to playing on the sand, Consani and Nightingale would elect to play as partners rather than be forced to block or hit against each other – even though it’s not something they’re unfamiliar with.
As teammates last year, practice scrimmages against each other and their respective partners would admittedly result in their competitive personalities temporarily getting the better of them. But once again, they’d be quick to patch things up.
“We’d be fighting at practice and then I’d be leaving and be like, ‘But do you want a ride?’ and she’d be like, ‘Yeah,’ and then we’d be friends,” Consani said.
Be that as it may, Consani and Nightingale’s obligations to their respective teams have overruled their aversion to facing off against each other. Playing for rival teams in the same conference eventually produced an inevitable matchup between the best friends in the semifinal of the inaugural Pac-12 championship, in which Nightingale and her partner won 2-0.
Despite the roommates being well-informed about each other’s personal quirks, they made it a point to ensure no shenanigans in the form of mind games would take place in their first official collegiate match against each other.
“She has something that she does sometimes where she compliments me,” Nightingale said. “So she’ll say something like ‘Hey Zoë, that was a great serve.’ And I’m like ‘Thank you, Julie,’ and then I go back and miss. I really thought she was going to give me some of those and she never did.”
For the record, Consani also decided against sabotaging her roommate by using her car to block Nightingale’s before taking an Uber to the tournament.
“She’s had that plan before,” Nightingale said with a laugh.
In the wake of the conference tournament, USC and UCLA have qualified as the No. 2 and No. 4 seeds respectively in the first-ever NCAA beach volleyball tournament. The beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama, could play host to a clash between the roommates on the grandest stage of college beach volleyball.
Even if that matchup ends up being the difference maker in winning or losing a national championship, Consani and Nightingale are confident that it won’t put a damper on their friendship.
“Obviously we’d both want to win, but we’d be happy for either of us,” Consani said. “If I won, it’d be my first national championship win, and if Zoë won she’d get one for beach and indoor, so it’s a pretty big accomplishment either way.”
With their college athletic careers just a weekend away from ending, Nightingale and Consani have already made plans to remain in each other’s post-NCAA life for the immediate future.
“There’s been discussion of team Zulie in the AVP,” Consani said. “A little run maybe?”
And yes, they’ll still be living together.