Beach volleyball prepares for biggest test of season

Coming off a dominant showing last week at the Pac-12 South Invitational in Santa Monica, the Women of Troy (15-6) will head to Malibu on Saturday to participate in the Pepperdine Invitational.

Freshman Sammy Slater boasts a 17-2 overall record in her first season as a Trojan. Alex Zhang | Daily Trojan

After starting the season with a pedestrian 4-3 record, USC has begun to find their rhythm, winning 11 of their last 14 matches predominantly on the 1st court. One of the main reasons for the Trojans’ recent success is the emergence of freshman Tina Graudina and junior Abril Bustamante.

In last week’s invitational, the pair swept all four of their matchups in consecutive sets and were recognized by receiving the Pac-12 Pair of the Week award. The duo was also recognized on the national level by being chosen by as the national pair of the week. It’s the second time a pair from USC has received the honor, with the last time happening when Bustamante and senior Terese Cannon won the award on Feb. 27.

To kick off their contests at Zuma Beach, the Women of Troy will first square off against the upstart No. 19 St. Mary’s (10-3). Winners of eight of their last 10, the Gaels have entered the rankings for the first time this season behind their three-game win streak and an impressive win over the Cal Bears earlier in the season. While not a traditional power, St. Mary’s projected first court pair of juniors Morgan Hughes and Payton Rund have emerged as a strong duo, having posted a 10-1 record so far.

USC’s second match of the day will be a showdown against fellow Los Angeles team No. 16 Loyola Marymount (8-7). Despite their high ranking, the Lions have struggled against the nation’s best, posting a record of 1-7 against fellow ranked teams. This will be the 18th all-time matchup between the two squads, and the first since April last year when the Women of Troy won 4-1. USC is undefeated in the all-time series boasting a 17-0 record.

While head coach Anna Collier and the players have emphasized the importance of treating every opponent equally seriously all season, there’s no question what the marquee matchup of the day will be on Saturday.

In what might be the best rivalry in beach volleyball today, the No. 1 Pepperdine Waves (15-3) and the Women of Troy will square off to finish their respective days. USC will look to bounce back after dropping two early matches to the Waves, falling 3-2 once at Merle Norman Stadium and the second time in Malibu.

Pepperdine is also the only team in the tournament that USC doesn’t have a winning record against, as the all-time series between the two powerhouses is locked even at 10 games a piece. While it’s clear that Pepperdine has an abundance of elite players, their best pair this season has been the combination of junior Skylar Caputo and freshman Alexis Filippone. The duo, who have played all of their matches together on the 4th court, boast a record of 17-1 as a pair. If USC wants to regain their title as the pinnacle of collegiate beach volleyball, it will have to begin with getting back to defeating their elite Southern California rivals such as Pepperdine.

USC will first play St. Mary’s on Saturday at 10:10 a.m. Following that match, they will square off against Loyola Marymount at 12:30 p.m. before finishing the invitational against Pepperdine at 1:40 p.m.