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Bruins in Paris

With win over LSU, UCLA beach volleyball is NCAA championship bound

Graduate student Jaden Whitmarsh leaps to nudge the ball over the net. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Beach Volleyball

No. 2 seed UCLA3
No. 11 seed LSU1

By Sabrina Baker

May 4, 2024 2:58 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article’s score box incorrectly stated that LSU beach volleyball is the No. 7 seed. In fact, LSU beach volleyball is the No. 11 seed.

This post was updated May 4 at 5:03 p.m.

In the Emerald City, the yellow brick road leads to lions, tigers and bears – oh my!

Gulf Shores, Alabama, led the Bruins to beat the Tigers, sending them to the NCAA beach volleyball championship match for the second year in a row.

No. 2 seed UCLA (35-6, 2-0 Pac-12) defeated No. 11 seed LSU (27-12) 3-1 in the semifinal dual Saturday afternoon. Both teams played in the quarterfinals earlier in the morning; LSU defeated No. 3 seed Stanford (32-6, 7-1) 3-2, with four of its five sets going to three sets.

UCLA played in an earlier quarterfinal match, where it beat No. 7 California 3-0, giving the Bruins a little more rest time between the quarterfinal and semifinal.

Sophomore Maggie Boyd said the team used every minute of rest possible.

“After our first game, we went to the hotel room and cleaned off, ate lunch and hydrated a lot,” Boyd said. “We all felt really rested and ready for our semifinal game.”

The tournament utilized staggered starts in the semifinals, with courts two and four starting before the rest of the team.

Coach Jenny Johnson Jordan said the different start times were helpful.

“It’s always an advantage if you can have a coach on your court,” Johnson Jordan said. “Having a staggered start obviously allowed for more coaching on the court than we would when all five go at once.”

Despite the short break, both teams put up a fight with the championship game on the line. Ultimately, the Bruins ultimately walked away victorious.

Graduate student Jaden Whitmarsh said she knew LSU was going to put up a fight.

“LSU showed up and had a great day today, obviously upsetting Stanford was a huge win for them,” Whitmarsh said. “We just came and knew they’re a tough team and they are going to play everyone their best. So we shut it right down while we could.”

Court four – with senior Tessa Van Winkle and Whitmarsh – secured UCLA’s first dual point, winning the first set 21-9 and the second set 21-11.

Whitmarsh said her and Van Winkle felt ready for this match.

“To be honest, we were just super locked in,” Whitmarsh said. “We knew what we needed to do against the team. We had the game plan, we just needed to execute it.”

UCLA also won the first sets on courts one and three, whereas LSU claimed the first on courts two and five. The first sets that the Tigers won went to extra points to determine the winner.

Redshirt freshman Kenzie Brower elevates to make a block. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Van Winkle and Whitmarsh then won their entire match in the second set, before their court five counterparts – junior Natalie Myszkowski and redshirt freshman Ensley Alden – even finished their first set.

The Tigers answered by recording their first dual point, with a win of their own on court two over graduate student Devon Newberry and senior Peri Brennan. LSU’s Parker Bracken and Reilly Allred had secured their team’s win against Stanford in a three-set thriller just a couple hours before putting the Tigers up on the board against the Bruins.

“It’s always to your advantage when you play from an underdog mentality,” Johnson Jordan said. “I think they (LSU) felt pretty underrated all year. … But they really found a way to figure out their lineup in spite of that and did a really great job of just battling at the end.”

Despite Bracken and Allred’s ability to bounce back from their short recovery time, the Bruins came roaring back to life on courts one and three.

Graduate student Lexy Denaburg spiked the ball over the net to secure her team’s second dual point, winning court one’s match 21-19, 21-14.

Boyd said her and Denaburg’s mindsets pushed them to success.

“No matter if we were down or if the score was tight, we stayed calm and present,” Boyd said. “And it worked out.”

Less than a minute later, court three’s redshirt freshman Kenzie Brower and junior Jessie Smith secured the winning dual point, winning both of their sets 21-19.

Johnson Jordan said this pairing locked in for the game today.

“One thing I think is important for them as a pair is their energy,” Johnson Jordan said. “They play really well and connected together when they have that fire and that energy, and they definitely had that in the match today.”

The Bruins have the rest of Saturday to recover before their championship match, which will be tomorrow at 8 a.m. For the second year in a row, UCLA will face its crosstown rival, No. 1 seed USC, to battle for the national championship trophy.

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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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