Beach prepares for Pac-12 playoffs

Junior Joy Dennis hits the ball against LMU at Merle Norman Stadium last season. (Daily Trojan file photo)

USC beach volleyball is looking to capitalize on its successful season when it faces two dominant opponents in No. 9 Long Beach State and Pepperdine at home Thursday.

The Trojans are coming off a successful run in the Pac-12 North Invitational last Sunday. USC defeated No. 12 Cal, No. 20 Stanford, No. 1 UCLA and Washington to finish 4-0 in the tournament. The victory over the Bruins was especially noteworthy, as USC handed UCLA its first loss of the season.

“We were prepared and came in with a lot of knowledge on the other teams,” head coach Anna Collier said. “We had a good beat on them and what we were going to try to accomplish.”

USC has been successful at the top court, as senior Abril Bustamante and sophomore Tina Graudina consistently outplayed opponents in the recent invitational. The duo will look to carry over its strong play into Thursday’s matchups, although the Trojans are hoping for consistency from all teammates as these games may be decided by narrow margins.

“We really want to nail down the basics,” senior Terese Cannon said. “[These games] are our last opportunity to prove ourselves before the Pac-12 championship.”

Long Beach State will come into this contest with a two-game winning streak as it easily defeated CSUN and UC Davis. The team swept both opponents and remains the ninth-best team in the nation. However, the Trojans have defeated Long Beach State in all of their past six matchups.

As the fifth-ranked team, Pepperdine will prove to be even more of a test for the Trojans. The Waves defeated Stanford and USC in their most recent games, bringing its overall record to 16-6. The Trojans and Waves are currently split in the season series at 1-1, and both games have been decided by one set. This final matchup will be a major benchmark for the squad as Pepperdine is projected to be the toughest opponent that the Trojans will face for the remainder of the regular season.

With only four total games remaining, the Trojans look to finish the season strong before competing in the playoffs. USC will take on the 49ers at 1 p.m. and the Waves at 3 p.m. Thursday.