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Despite season being canceled, UCLA beach volleyball looks ahead to next year

Savvy Simo, one of three seniors on this year’s UCLA beach volleyball roster, said she is considering taking a fifth year of NCAA eligibility since her final season was cut short as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Alex Driscoll/Daily Bruin)

By Lexi Grimes

April 24, 2020 12:29 p.m.

Their season may have ended more than a month ago, but the Bruins are still acting as a connected, cohesive unit by reflecting on their past season and making preparations for next year.

No. 2 UCLA beach volleyball (13-2) was less than halfway done with its 2020 campaign before the coronavirus caused all college sports’ seasons to be canceled. The Bruins were on a six-game winning streak and looking forward to competing for another national championship when the announcement was made.

“We did have a great opportunity this year to three-peat,” coach Stein Metzger said. “I thought we had a very strong team, and (the cancelation) was extremely disappointing for everyone.”

The Bruins ended their season ranked second in the country, winning 13 games while playing 15 out of the 39 that were originally scheduled. They had six shutouts on the season and recorded two wins against crosstown rival No. 6 USC (6-5). Their two losses of the season were both 3-2 matches at the hands of No.1 LSU (12-2).

Despite the cancellation of the season and the many miles between players, the team is still trying to work on their skills and stay as connected as possible.

“We are still having gym calls with coaches every week, and we have team calls to keep in touch,” freshman Lexy Denaburg said. “Being away is just really hard because they are my best friends.”

Senior Savvy Simo played four seasons of indoor volleyball – earning an All-American nod this past season – and three seasons of beach volleyball, winning two national championships. Despite being on the opposite end of her UCLA career as her younger teammate, she echoed a similar sentiment.

“You never really think that a season can be taken away, especially from an entire team,” Simo said. “My biggest takeaway is to never take for granted the opportunities to travel, to spend time together, to practice together, to win and lose together, even just to see each other every day because you never know.”

As the team continues to reflect on the season that could have been, it is also beginning to make preparations for next year’s team. The coaches have set up one-on-one meetings with each player to make sure they are still training in the time off. Players such as Denaburg have said they are doing cardio at their houses and have family members who have help with reps and drills.

However, with all beaches closed and no teammates to practice with, many members of the team have been faced with the reality that their progress – as individuals and as a team – has been put on hold.

“You just can’t simulate or duplicate the kind of work that we get done on Mapes Beach,” Metzger said. “I know it’s going to take a while to get everyone playing at the level they were at when we stopped, but we will take it one day at a time once we get that chance.”

One aspect of the team that will be changing before next year is the roster. The Bruins have currently signed two new players to the 2021 roster, Peri Brennan and Tessa Van Winkle.

Brennan played both indoor and beach in high school and is the No. 1-ranked adult player in the California Beach Volleyball Association. Van Winkle also played both indoor and beach, won two CBVA women’s volleyball tournaments, and is the younger sister of current Bruin sophomore Abby Van Winkle.

While new players are being added to the team, the current seniors – Lily Justine, Madi Yeomans and Simo – must still decide on their plans for next year. The NCAA has allowed all spring senior athletes to return to school for one more season, so there is a possibility that none of the current seniors will leave the team.

Ultimately, this decision will be up to each individual athlete, but one has already expressed interest in returning to UCLA.

“I definitely am considering it,” Simo said. “I’ve been in contact with the coaches, and they are supportive of me coming back if I do want to come back. We’re waiting to see how it all plays out but, as of now, (coming back) is the plan, and I’m really excited about it.”

All three seniors have been on the team since their freshman years and they were all a part of both championship-winning teams. This year, Yeomans played most of her matches on court five, while Justine mainly competed on court three. Simo played in every match this season, always competing on court one.

Although there is still some uncertainty surrounding the future, the team is mainly just waiting to get back out onto the courts at Mapes Beach.

“At the end of the day, we are lucky to be able to play at all,” Metzger said. “When we come back, we are going to be very grateful.”

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Lexi Grimes | Sports contributor
Grimes is currently a Sports contributor on the beach volleyball beat. She was previously a contributor on the women's volleyball beat.
Grimes is currently a Sports contributor on the beach volleyball beat. She was previously a contributor on the women's volleyball beat.
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