Beach volleyball seeks its fourth-straight national title

Last season marked a huge step forward for the USC beach volleyball team. Not only did they capture the national championship for the third consecutive year and win the Pac-12 Championship last May, but they also finished the season nearly undefeated, with their only loss coming from the UCLA Bruins.

The Trojans return a shot against Pepperdine last season. Daily Trojan file photo.

The Trojans also cemented themselves among the elite programs in college sports history by becoming the first beach volleyball program to win three consecutive titles.

While 2017 was all about continuing to make history, the 2018 season will be yet another opportunity for USC to continue its dynasty and cement itself as the standard for beach volleyball programs across the nation.

The preseason No. 1 Trojans will once again be led by head coach Anna Collier, who enters her seventh season as the leader of the team with a 146-18 overall record and an .890 winning percentage. After guiding her team to an undefeated 2015 season and the AVCA National Championship, Collier became the first head coach to reach the 100-win plateau after USC tacked on a program-best 34 wins in 2016. In 2017, Collier continued to lead the program with yet another national championship and a 38-1 season.

This season, however, the Trojans will look to new and old faces to continue their run as the pinnacle program in the nation.

The biggest loss for this year’s Trojan team will unquestionably be the departures of senior All-Americans Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes. The duo posted a perfect 48-0 record in 2016 and dropped just one set on the year, extending their remarkable winning streak to 73 matches in a row dating back to the 2015 season.

In 2017, Claes and Hughes continued their run of dominance by posting a 55-1 record and solidifying their reputation as the most elite duo in NCAA history. Now, the pair is dominating the AVP professional circuit.

Among those who will look to soften the blow of losing two beach volleyball legends will be senior Terese Cannon, an all Pac-12 second team performer last year and will be looked upon to take on a bigger load. Also, the Trojans brought in reinforcements in the form of four freshmen: Tina Graudina, Haley Hallgren, Maja Kaiser and Sammy Slater.

Among the group, Graudina, who hails from Latvia, stands out as the first-ever international recruit in the program’s history. She recently captured gold at the 2016 CEV European U22 Championships in Thessaloniki, Greece, the 2015 CEV U18 European Championship in Riga, Latvia, and the 2014 CEV Youth Continental Cup in Umag, Croatia.

The Trojans will be faced with a solid test to open the season at the Arizona State tournament on Feb. 24, where they will face Pac-12 rivals Arizona State, Nebraska and Cal Poly.

Soon thereafter, the Trojans will face their first true challenges of the season when they face perennial championship contender Pepperdine as well as crosstown rival UCLA at home on Feb. 28. UCLA finished last season as the No. 5 team with a 30-6 record while Pepperdine finished as the runner-up to the Trojans and ended the season with a 27-5 record. Both matches will be broadcast on the Pac-12 network.