On a brisk afternoon at Merle Norman Stadium, the No. 1 USC beach volleyball team took care of business in their home opener. The Trojans defeated visiting Loyola Marymount 5-0 in the first meeting between the two teams this season. With the win, the Trojans improved to 12-0 on the season with a 42-match winning streak, while LMU fell to 6-7 overall. Furthermore, USC remains perfect in the all-time series against the Lions at 16-0.
To kick off the dual meet, USC got 2 points on the board from their No. 4 and No. 5 pairs, respectively. Sophomore Abril Bustamante and freshman Joy Dennis earned a 21-16, 25-23 victory over LMU’s Emma Doud and Veronica Nederend, while the second point came from juniors Jenna Belton and Jo Kremer at the five spot. After dropping their first set 18-21 to LMU’s pair of Kristen Castellanos and Erin Williams, the reigning Pac-12 Pair of the Week squeaked out wins in the next two frames, 21-17 in the second and 15-12 in the third.
Belton and Kremer are no stranger to three-setters in this early part of the season, having gone the distance in six of their 11 matches played. However, with an overall record of 10-1 and an eight-match winning streak in their back pockets, the juniors seemed to have fully embraced those challenges.
“It’s almost become kind of a joke between us at this point,” Kremer said. “We’ve gone to three so many times now that if we do end up having to play another third set, we just sit down, regroup and tell each other that we’ll be fine. We’re good at third games and we feed off each other really well.”
While the juniors are one of four new pairs for USC this season, their friendship has quickly transformed into a solid partnership at the five spot.
“We have very similar personalities on the court, which helps us a lot,” Belton said. “We’re known to be very relaxed and chill, but we can definitely bring the fire out of each other when we need to, so it has been working really well.”
That bond also contributes to the players’ comfort levels when taking on competitors.
“I love playing with Jenna,” Kremer added. “We don’t really feel too much pressure out on the court because we know we’ll have the other’s support no matter what. It’s been really fun so far.”
Once the four and five pairs wrapped up their victories, it became a race to see which USC pair would clinch the dual for the Trojans. Over on court three, junior Terese Cannon set up senior Nicolette Martin for a kill that would end the match and the dual in the Trojans’ favor. They posted a 21-15, 21-15 win over Brittnay Estes and Kekai Whitford. Less than a minute later, senior Allie Wheeler and sophomore Katrina Kernochan — playing in place of senior Sophie Bukovec — notched a 21-11, 21-19 straight set victory over Sara Kovac and Jessie Prichard on court two.
To close out the 5-0 sweep, the Trojans got a win at the top court from seniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes. After dropping the first set to LMU’s pair of Savannah Slattery and Sarah Sponcil 18-21, the veterans dominated the second frame by a 21-10 score. Claes and Hughes then ran out to a 10-1 lead in the third and took the set in dominating fashion with a 15-3 finish. All in all, the dual victory improved USC’s record to 35-4 all-time at Merle Norman Stadium.
From the West Coast to the East Coast the Trojans go, as they now head to Columbia, S.C., for the Gamecock Grand Slam-Dan Apol Memorial tournament at Wheeler Beach for the weekend. The field includes No. 4 Florida State, No. 9 Georgia State, host and No. 9 South Carolina and No. 13 Stetson. Matches will begin on Saturday at 8 a.m. PST with a tilt against the Seminoles and will conclude on Sunday.