Fresh off of hard-fought dual victories over Cal Poly and crosstown rival UCLA on Saturday, the No. 1 USC beach volleyball team will look to defend its title as reigning conference champions this weekend when they compete in the second annual Pac-12 Beach Volleyball Championships in Tucson, Ariz.
With the regular season now behind them and a 60-match winning streak in tow, the undefeated Trojans (30-0) will make their first-ever appearance at Bear Down Beach in the tournament, hosted by the University of Arizona, with double-elimination team bracket play beginning on Thursday. The conference will crown a team champion on Friday and then play an 18-pair single-elimination tournament to crown a pairs champion on Saturday.
Two Trojan duos have crossed the 30-win plateau this season, with senior All-Americans and reigning Pac-12 pairs champions Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes boasting a 35-1 overall record this season and a 29-1 mark in dual matches at the top court. At the bottom of the lineup at No. 5, juniors Jenna Belton and Jo Kremer are 30-4 overall with a 26-2 dual record, and they reached the 30-win mark after an exciting three-setter against UCLA on Saturday.
Following right behind is the No. 3 pair of junior Terese Cannon and senior Nicolette Martin, who own a 28-7 overall record and 25-5 mark in duals together. USC’s No. 2 pair of seniors Sophie Bukovec and Allie Wheeler (17-5 overall, 16-4 duals) and No. 4 pair of sophomore Abril Bustamante and freshman Joy Dennis (16-5 overall, 15-5 duals) will look to crack the 20-win threshold over the weekend.
The Trojans are eager to defend their conference title in Tucson against largely improved competition from last year, and they hope to finish the season out strong.
“The team is really excited,” Kremer said. “We really want to win another Pac-12 Championship. There is going to be some great competition, and we’ve been waiting all season for these last two tournaments — Pac-12s and NCAAs — so we’re ready for that final push.”
This year’s conference field includes three teams ranked in the AVCA Top 10, with No. 1 USC
(30-0), No. 2 UCLA (26-3) and
No. 8 Arizona (15-8) at the top. Pac-12 rivals Arizona State (12-14), Washington (7-5) and Stanford (12-8) also received votes in this week’s AVCA poll.
In the inaugural Pac-12 Tournament held at Merle Norman Stadium last season, the Trojans picked up 5-0 wins over Oregon and California in the quarterfinals before posting a 3-2 victory over UCLA in the semifinals. USC was then crowned the first-ever league champion with a 3-0 sweep over Arizona in the finals. The Trojans could potentially meet the Bruins and the Wildcats again this weekend in the team bracket, although USC owns a perfect all-time record against both schools.
As the top seed in the team bracket, No. 1 USC will kick off its tournament on Thursday at 1 p.m., taking on the winner of the de facto play-in match between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds. Should the Trojans advance, the quarterfinal matchup will begin at 6 p.m. The semifinals of the tournament begin on Friday at 9 a.m., with the Pac-12 team title match is scheduled for later in the afternoon at 1 p.m. Finally, the pairs championship will begin on Friday and run until the final at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.