On a windy Saturday morning in Malibu, Calif., the nation got a glimpse of what the new-look beach volleyball team has in store for the 2017 campaign. The No. 1 Trojans (2-0) edged No. 4 UCLA 3-2 and beat No. 3 Pepperdine 4-1 to pick up a pair of big dual victories at the annual Pepperdine Kick-Off on the sands of Zuma Beach.
Four new Trojan pairs made their debuts for head coach Anna Collier and each notched at least one win, showing promise to begin the season.
“I thought my pairs were quite solid this first weekend,” Collier said. “They had really good chemistry out on the court, and whenever they got in a little bit of trouble, which almost everybody did, they came together and worked through situations to improve on whatever they needed to improve on.”
To start USC’s dual against UCLA, all five courts were engaged in hotly contested first sets, but the Trojans got on the board with wins at courts one and three. Senior All-Americans Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes took down UCLA twins Megan and Nicole McNamara
(21-19, 21-12) at the top court, while the new pairing of senior Nicolette Martin and junior Terese Cannon posted a 21-16, 21-18 win over Savvy Simo and Torrey Van Winden at court three. The Bruins were able to snag a win at court four, as Izzy Carey and Elise Zappia defeated USC’s youngest pair of sophomore Abril Bustamante and freshman Joy Dennis, 21-19,
21-15. The final two courts went the distance, and a victory by juniors Jenna Belton and Jo Kremer at court five over Chanti Holroyd and Lily Justine (21-18, 17-21, 15-11) sealed USC’s first dual win of the season.
Immediately after their battle with the Bruins, the Trojans turned around and faced off against Pepperdine. The Waves’ home court advantage did not mean much, though, as USC scored 3 points in straight sets to secure the dual win. Seniors Sophie Bukovec and Allie Wheeler, another one of Collier’s new pairs, got their first win of the season over Brittany Howard and Corinne Quiggle
(21-15, 21-18) at court two, while Claes and Hughes easily downed Delaney Knudsen and Madalyn Roh
(21-12, 21-13) to give USC its second point. That victory for Claes and Hughes ran their winning streak to 75 in a row.
The four-pair of Bustamante and Dennis bounced back from their early morning loss to notch their first win — a 21-13, 25-23 decision over Deahna Kraft and Anika Wilson — and clinch the dual for the Trojans. Courts three and five played to completion, as the Waves snagged their only point of the day behind Skylar Caputo and Heidi Dyer’s 22-20, 21-14 win over Cannon and Martin. Belton and Kremer once again went the distance on court five and triumphed for the second time with a 20-22, 21-16, 15-11 win over Gigi Hernandez and Katty Workman.
With the victory, USC improved its school-record winning streak to 32 matches in a row. Before Saturday, Pepperdine was the only program to hold a winning record against USC, but the Trojan win evened up the
all-time series record to 8-8. USC has now won four in a row against the Waves, while also remaining undefeated against UCLA at 6-0 all-time.
Knowing that this weekend would serve as a good barometer of where her team stands to begin the season, Collier was pleased with how things turned out.
“We were challenged exactly the way I wanted to be challenged,” Collier said. “Pepperdine and UCLA were able to show some of our weaknesses that we haven’t been able to find or see in our practices, and now we know what we need to work on in order to improve.”
Hughes was also pleased with her team’s display of confidence and poise against top-ranked competition.
“We came out with that No. 1 ranking, and that’s not an easy one to have because that target on our back gets bigger and bigger,” she said. “But we came out and proved ourselves today. We played two of the toughest teams in the nation, and I’m happy we came out with those wins.”
The Trojans return to action on Saturday for the East Meets West Invitational in Manhattan Beach, Calif. USC will face off against Florida International at 10:30 a.m. in its first match of the day before taking on LSU at 12:30 p.m.