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UCLA beach volleyball swept by USC, losing 2nd straight national title to Trojans

Graduate student Devon Newberry and senior Peri Brennan walk off the court together. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Beach volleyball

No. 2 seed UCLA0
No. 1 seed USC3

By Lori Garavartanian

May 5, 2024 12:10 p.m.

This post was updated May 5 at 9:57 p.m.

The Bruins saw double – in more ways than one. 

After five long matches, all going to set three, the national championship trophy slipped through their hands on the same court and to the same pair – twins Nicole and Audrey Nourse – that had previously secured the Trojans’ national championship in 2023.

No. 2 seed UCLA (35-7, 2-0 Pac-12) was unable to stop No. 1 seed USC (37-5, 0-0). The Bruins failed to secure their third overall championship Sunday in Gulf Shores, Alabama, against their crosstown rival, ceding the trophy for the Trojans’ fourth title in a row.

Already having secured the final Pac-12 trophy after beating the Bruins twice in the span of eight days, the Trojans had the chance to complete a championship sweep.

“Our mentality is the postseason is a different season,” said coach Jenny Johnson Jordan. “We felt really good going into the match. We felt like we were firing and playing at a really high level.” 

The Bruins did start off on the right foot, winning the first set on both courts two and four. UCLA pair, senior Peri Brennan and graduate student Devon Newberry, secured a quick 21-14 win to start the morning against USC pair Maddi Kriz and Madison White. 

But a first-set victory was all they would get after losing the second and third sets en route to USC’s first point of the day. 

On court four, securing the first set took longer. Senior Tessa Van Winkle and graduate student Jaden Whitmarsh won their first set against USC pair Ashley Pater and Grace Seits 26-24 after multiple ties. 

Then – for the second time in a span of 30 minutes – the pair sent a set into overtime. This time, however, it didn’t go in UCLA’s favor, once again putting its fate in a decisive third set.

Van Winkle and Whitmarsh then failed to regain a handle on the third set – the Bruins trailed 2-0. 

The Trojans’ securing of courts two and four meant the Bruins would have to win on the remaining three courts to secure a national championship.

Graduate student Lexy Denaburg passes the ball to partner sophomore Maggie Boyd. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Neither court one nor court three jumped out to the same advantage as their teammates did on courts two and four, dropping the first sets and digging an even bigger hole.

On court five, junior Natalie Myszkowski and redshirt freshman Ensley Alden provided UCLA’s first set win in the previous six sets, winning 21-17. 

Redshirt freshman Kenzie Brower and junior Jessie Smith quickly followed with a 21-15 second-set victory of their own, pushing court three to a must-win third set against the Nourse twins. 

“I’m thinking about why I’m doing it, and I think of all my teammates, my family and my coaches,” Brower said. “I’m doing it for that, and I’m going to fight for every point for them.” 

UCLA stayed alive with another set victory on court one, with sophomore Maggie Boyd and graduate student Lexy Denaburg bouncing back to seemingly lay the path for a reverse sweep.

The chance at a title came down to three different third sets for the Bruins. 

“We told each other we’re going to give it everything we have,” Boyd said. “We were going to pick up our energy, and that worked for us. We laid it all out there.” 

All eyes stayed on court three, pacing ahead of courts one and five. Brower and Smith had to stave off the Bruin killers of the year prior in order to give their teammates a chance to seal the deal. 

Boyd said herself and Denaburg, whose match was occurring concurrently, were not paying much attention to the other matches. Although it was hard not to look at the scoreboard, they tried to stay locked in on the court, she said.

But the mountain was too tall to climb for Brower and Smith, and Boyd and Denaburg never got the chance to finish their match.

Brower and Smith fell 15-11 in the third set, giving USC the title-clinching third point and extending UCLA’s championship drought another year. 

“It’s motivation for next year,” Johnson Jordan said. “We can use it as motivation to push forward and to push ourselves in practice, training and competitions.”

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Lori Garavartanian
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