On Tuesday, the USC women’s beach volleyball team continued its preparation to defend its conference title in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament.
This regular season was significantly more tumultuous than past years for the No. 5-ranked Trojans, who have lost more duals this season (22-10) than they have in the past four seasons combined. Despite this, the team earned the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament and are coming off a tremendous 3-2 win over No. 6 Long Beach State. The team is now starting to resemble the championship contender it has the potential to be.
“I absolutely feel like this team is hitting its stride,” head coach Anna Collier said. “The partnerships are starting to become twinships and we’re starting to have everything that comes with creating a championship team.”
As an event, the Pac-12 Tournament is a double-elimination gauntlet that requires the winner to win at least four matches in three days. With a title under their belt already, both USC coaching staff and players are prepared for the challenge.
“We’re really excited and we’re trying to enjoy the moment,” said senior Terese Cannon, a two-time champion. “Our plan is to stay in the winner’s bracket and avoid the extra matches that come with trying to reach the championship from the loser’s bracket.”
Cannon has teamed up with freshman Sammy Slater this season and become one of the many elite Trojan duos this season. With a dual record of 21-4, they’ve done most of their work on the third court. Along with USC’s first court pairing of freshman Tina Graudina and junior Abril Bustamante (24-1), they will look to continue to carry the Trojans’ championship aspirations for the remainder of the season.
The first test for the Women of Troy will be against the No. 7 Arizona State Sun Devils (10-18). The two teams previously met in Santa Monica on March 24, resulting in a 4-1 victory for the Trojans. USC also owns the all-time series between the two teams 9-0. Although the Trojans are the heavy favorites to win the match, Collier praised the Sun Devils and wants to ensure her team does not underestimate its competition.
“[Arizona State] has really good fours and fives,” Collier said. “They’re very scrappy and they come in and play hard. It’s going to be hard to put them away.”
Another important variable to consider over the course of the Pac-12 Tournament is the Trojans’ quest to be selected for the NCAA Tournament. With No. 2 Pepperdine, No. 1 UCLA and No. 3 Hawaii presumably locking up the three bids from the West region, the Trojans will most likely have to earn one of two at-large bids in order to be selected for the tournament.
The two teams that pose the biggest threat to USC’s selection are No. 4 Cal Poly and No. 6 Long Beach State. Though the Trojans have defeated both squads this season, a strong showing in the Pac-12 Tournament would go a long way in helping them secure their place at Gulf Shores for the Big Dance.
If the Trojans are going to complete the three-peat as Pac-12 Champions, they will likely have to go through a familiar foe in UCLA.
“We’re probably going to have to beat UCLA; it’s who I see in the finals,” Collier said. “They’re playing solid ball and it’s going to take a team effort to defeat them and secure the championship.”
USC’s first match against Arizona State will take place on Thursday at 9:45 a.m. and will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Network.