The No. 3 beach volleyball team was back home playing at Merle Norman Stadium on Tuesday afternoon and came away with two solid victories over No. 6 Long Beach State and No. 19 Cal, recording a pair of 4-1 and 5-0 wins, respectively. Battling both fatigue and feisty competition, the Women of Troy dropped just three sets total on the day to win their seventh straight dual match in a row and improve their record to 11-2 overall.
Playing their first two matches after coming back from a tournament in Hawaii, the Women of Troy had to rely on each other in order to pull out the victories. Junior All-American Kelly Claes, who won both of her matches on the day with partner junior Sara Hughes, was ultimately pleased with how her team came together.
“I think we all played really well overall. We’re competing with each other in practice, and everyone is getting better each day, but more importantly, we’re getting better as a group and I think that showed today,” Claes said. “Everybody is coming out more passionate and more excited each match, and we’re playing more as a team, so it’s really exciting to see.”
Having been pushed to the brink against Long Beach State once already this season, the Women of Troy made sure to shut the door on the 49ers as soon as possible. The No. 5 pair of sophomore Jo Kremer and graduate transfer Zoe Nightingale and the No. 4 pair of sophomore Jenna Belton and freshman Abril Bustamante immediately put USC up 2-0 with a pair of 2-set victories over their 49er counterparts with a 21-6, 21-17 win on Court 5 and a 21-11, 21-19 win on Court 4 respectively. The match was quickly sealed over on Court 1 with Claes and Hughes dominating the 49er’s pair of Jenelle Hudson and Zoi Konstantopoulou, 21-9, 21-4. The No. 3 pair of juniors Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler were pushed to a third set for the eighth time this year but came away with a 21-16, 19-21, 15-13 win, while the No. 2 duo of senior Alexa Strange and junior Sophie Bukovec ultimately fell in a close battle by a 21-16, 16-21, 16-14 score. Overall, the 4-1 win would mark the second time USC has defeated Long Beach State this season and evened up the all-time series between the two schools at 5-5.
It would be more of the same for USC later in the afternoon against Cal, as all five Women of Troy pairs put up two-set sweeps to claim the 5-0 victory. Kremer and Nightingale recorded a 21-6, 21-9 win over Cal’s Katie Regalia and Emily Shults on Court 5, while Belton and Bustamante dispatched Teya Neff and Rachel Wilson, 21-13, 21-14 at the No. 4 spot. Claes and Hughes would once again clinch the match over on Court 1 with a 21-6, 21-10 drubbing of Sarah Cole and Mia Merino. The defending AVCA national champion pair are now a perfect 16-0 on the season together and are riding a 41-match winning streak dating back to April 2, 2015.
Claes attributed the streak to “working hard and executing the game plan,” while Hughes added that focus was the key.
“I think we just really took care of our side of the net,” Hughes said. “Kelly and I were very technical, but at the same time we [just played] really fun volleyball. We knew where each other was on the court, and it was a really fun match.”
USC would also pick up a win on Court 2 with Bukovec and Strange notching a 21-11, 21-12 win over Bryce Bark and Kory Lamet, while the last point of the day would come from Martin and Wheeler, who defeated Grace Campbell and Olivia Rodberg, 21-14, 21-12, to complete the sweep.
Overall, USC improves to 11-2 on the season while Long Beach falls to 2-6 and Cal drops to 7-5. Now, the Women of Troy will get a much-needed break for nine days before they head out to Miami, Florida, to compete in the Florida International Surf and Turf Challenge on April 1 and 2. The first day of the competition will pit them against Tulane, South Carolina and Georgia State.