During its first weekend back in Southern California, the Trojan beach volleyball team put on an impressive showing in the Pac-12 South Invitational, dominating its opponents at Ocean Park Beach in Santa Monica.
Though the Trojans’ loss record remained unscathed, their first match of the weekend proved to be closer than anticipated. Facing the No. 16 Cal Golden Bears that were riding an 11-match winning streak, the Trojans came out strong with a mixture of youth and experience on the first two courts.
The Women of Troy dominated the first two courts; junior Abril Bustamante and freshman Tina Graudina defeated Alexia Inman and Mima Mirkovic (21-15, 21-12) on the first court and senior Terese Cannon and freshman Sammy Slater came out on top against Jessica Gaffney and Iya Lindahl (21-10, 21-18).
Despite falling behind two games early, the Bears bounced back strong when their fifth court pair of Grace Campbell and Madison Micheletti soundly defeated USC’s junior Katrina Kernochan and graduate student Alexandra Poletto 21-16 in back-to-back sets.
The Trojans would need a victory from senior Jenna Belton and freshman Haley Hallgren on Court 3 (21-16, 25-23) to seal the victory for USC before Mia Merino and Caroline Schafer of UC Berkeley defeated sophomore Joy Dennis and senior Jo Kremer on Court 4 with the match already decided. The two games that Cal won were the first they’ve ever won against USC.
In their second and third matches of the weekend, USC methodically defeated the two Pac-12 Arizona representatives in the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats (9-6) and the Arizona State Sun Devils (3-9). In both matches, USC rode their 1st, 2nd and 4th courts to victory. The pairs of Bustamante/Graudina, Cannon/Slater and Belton/Kremer each consecutively swept their opponents, ending the matches before the outcomes of the 3rd and 5th courts mattered. The Trojans’ win over the Wildcats was their seventh in a row against Arizona.
For their final showdown of the weekend, USC faced their highest-ranked opponent for the weekend against the No. 14 Stanford Cardinal (11-5), who were 3-0 on the weekend leading up to that match and riding an 11-match winning streak. In what was supposed to be their toughest test of the weekend, USC swept the Cardinal 5-0. The Trojans on the first four courts dominated their matchups while the 5th court pair of sophomore Cammie Dorn and freshman Maja Kaiser saw a thrilling comeback in three sets to defeat Kat Anderson and Caitlin Keefe of Stanford (17-21, 21-13, 15-8). Their matchup marked only the second time both teams have faced off.
After their 4-0 weekend, USC cemented themselves once again as the cream of the crop in the Pac-12. The only other team to come out of the weekend without a loss was the No. 2 UCLA Bruins (18-3). The Trojans’ top performers, Bustamante/Graudina and Cannon/Slater, were selected to the all-tournament team. Both pairs went 4-0 on the weekend, without dropping a single set. UCLA was the only other school to have pairs recognized.
With the performance, the women’s beach volleyball team improves its record to 15-6 on the season.
Up next, the Trojans will head to Pepperdine University on March 31 to take on No. 19 St. Mary’s, No. 16 Loyola Marymount and the No. 1 Pepperdine Waves in the Pepperdine Invitational. USC will have a full week to prepare for another dual against Pepperdine after falling to them twice in one week earlier this season.