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Bruins in Paris

UCLA beach volleyball kicks off NCAA championship against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Members of UCLA beach volleyball exchange a hug on Senior Day. (Brandon Morquecho/Photo editor)

By Sabrina Baker

May 2, 2024 2:34 p.m.

Trophy No. 122 is hanging in UCLA’s balance.

The Bruins will garner their veteran experience to bring it home.

No. 2 seed UCLA beach volleyball (32-6, 2-0 Pac-12) will face No. 15 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (28-9, 7-0 Southland) in Gulf Shores, Alabama, to commence its campaign in the national tournament. The Bruins – who snagged the trophy back-to-back in 2018 and 2019 – will have a chance to avenge last season’s one-point loss in the finale.

The only current UCLA beach volleyball player to have experienced the feeling of winning a national championship is graduate student Jaden Whitmarsh, who was on the team in 2019.

Coach Jenny Johnson Jordan said she feels good about where the team stands heading into the final tournament.

“Not only are we playing at a high level, but we’re very much supportive of one another,” Johnson Jordan said. “We’ll speak (about) a few things over the next couple of days and then head out to Gulf Shores and get prepped for the championship.”

Senior Tessa Van Winkle will experience her first national championship as a starter in the Gulf Shores. Her partner, Whitmarsh, is the longest-tenured player on the team.

“(At) Pac-12s, our team found a really good groove” Van Winkle said. “I know it definitely is tough not winning and having the outcome we wanted going in, but I feel like every pair really connected with their partner.”

Out of the 10 starters, four are using their last year of eligibility, meaning this is their last chance for a national championship. The four are graduate students Devon Newberry, Rileigh Powers, Lexy Denaburg and Whitmarsh.

Denaburg said she tries to not look at the postseason any differently.

“For me, it’s kind of like another beach volleyball game,” Denaburg said. “But I do feel like the overall energy between everyone is just different because there’s just a sense of ‘It’s postseason,’ and we know that our season is ending soon regardless of what happens.”

If the Bruins defeat the Islanders, they will face the winner of No. 7 seed California and No. 10 seed Long Beach State – teams they have faced this season and beat.

The rest of the bracket is full of potential challengers, including the two teams the Bruins have lost to this season, No. 3 seed Stanford and No. 1 seed USC.

Van Winkle said outside of practice, her preparation focuses on her wellbeing.

“I try to fill my cup,” Van Winkle said. “Doing things that I like to do outside of volleyball, because it really helps me mentally reset and not think about volleyball all the time.”

The Bruins will start their national championship campaign Friday at 11 a.m.

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Sabrina Baker | Sports contributor
Baker is currently a Sports contributor on the swim & dive beat.
Baker is currently a Sports contributor on the swim & dive beat.
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