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Loss to USC ends UCLA beach volleyball’s 21-match winning streak

Graduate student Savvy Simo’s pairing beat its opponents from No. 2 USC, but No. 1 UCLA beach volleyball was unable to secure an undefeated weekend in the loss. (Jefferson Alade/Daily Bruin)

Beach Volleyball

No. 1 UCLA3
No. 8 Grand Canyon2
No. 1 UCLA3
No. 5 Loyola Marymount2
No. 1 UCLA3
No. 6 Cal Poly2
No. 1 UCLA2
No. 2 USC3

By Bryan Palmero

April 19, 2021 1:49 p.m.

In the penultimate contest of the regular season, the Bruins’ winning streak met its match.

In San Luis Obispo at the Center of Effort Challenge, No. 1 UCLA beach volleyball (24-2, 10-0 Pac-12) grabbed victories over No. 8 Grand Canyon (16-8) and No. 5 Loyola Marymount (20-6, 1-0 West Coast Conference) on Friday and beat No. 6 Cal Poly (17-8) on Saturday before its 21-match winning streak was snapped by No. 2 USC (22-2) by a score of 3-2.

The Bruins had not lost since the Trojans swept them at Merle Norman Stadium more than a month ago on March 4, UCLA’s only other defeat all season.

Coach Stein Metzger said his team knew it could reverse the tides but came up just short against its crosstown rivals in its second match of the day.

“We’ve always been confident that we can beat (USC),” Metzger said. “We had a few partner switches, and so we had some new pairings and I thought that they battled well. … We just got to play 10% better.”

UCLA came out with new duos on courts two, three and four in the loss. Without sophomore Lindsey Sparks in the lineup, the Bruins debuted sophomore Abby Van Winkle and junior Megan Muret on Sparks’ usual court three, as the new pairing picked up one of the blue and gold’s two wins against the Trojans.

“We’ve had the same pairings for a long time,” Metzger said. “We just felt like it was getting a little stale. We wanted to have a fresh look at it, and we figured this was our last chance.”

Metzger added that the new lineup was still tentative as his team continues to work things out before April 29, which is when the postseason begins.

UCLA’s other court win came from its season-long court-one pairing of graduate student Savvy Simo and freshman Lexy Denaburg. The duo secured the victory in straight sets, including a 33-31 opening-frame triumph in which the two came back from a five-point deficit.

Simo said her chemistry with Denaburg allowed them to persevere through the first set – which was against Latvian Olympian Tina Graudina – and come out with the victory.

“We really were just having fun,” Simo said. “We started off a little shaky, we went down 14-9 at one point and we just kept chugging along, kept pushing along. … I think the reason we won was because we were smiling and having fun.”

Saturday’s loss also marked the sixth match in four days for the Bruins. After winning its doubleheader versus LMU on Wednesday, UCLA posted 3-2 victories over Grand Canyon, LMU and Cal Poly.

“There’s no substitute for competition,” Metzger said. “Even if you train for long hours during practice, it’s just not the same. … I feel like we’re going to have the stamina to do what we need to in the postseason.”

During the 2018 NCAA tournament, the Bruins played six matches in three days – the maximum number of games permitted – en route to their first-ever national championship.

Metzger said these numerous and close regular-season matches may prove the difference should UCLA have to duplicate its championship-winning performance.

However, before the Bruins can begin their tournament run, they’ll have a chance for revenge on Senior Day, playing the Trojans again Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m.

After UCLA Athletics announced that team guests would be permitted at outdoor home sporting events, Simo said she looks forward to finally having her family cheering along the sidelines.

“I love the game – I love it so much, and I love it when people are there,” Simo said. “It’s been very funky to get fired up for a game when no one is there. I’m just excited to have my family there – that’s all that matters to me on Senior Day.”

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Bryan Palmero | Assistant Sports editor
Palmero is currently an assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats. He was previously a contributor on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats.
Palmero is currently an assistant Sports editor on the softball, beach volleyball, women's volleyball, men's volleyball and men's golf beats. He was previously a contributor on the beach volleyball and women's volleyball beats.
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