No. 1 beach volleyball to face top teams this weekend

Graduate student Caroline Schafer sets the ball into the air.
Graduate student Caroline Schafer is 13-2 in individual matches this season. Last year, she was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team. (Colin Huang | Daily Trojan)

After a strong showing at the Pac-12 North Invitational this past weekend, No. 1 USC beach volleyball heads north to San Luis Obispo to take part in the Center of Effort Challenge tournament. 

The Trojans enter the tournament riding a 22-dual win streak, four of which came from this past weekend against Pac-12 rivals, including sweeps of No. 9 Stanford, No. 17 Arizona and Oregon. USC’s only dropped point of the tournament came on a court three loss during a 4-1 victory over No. 12 Cal Saturday afternoon.

“Momentum is huge,” said graduate student Julia Scoles in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “It’s something that your energy dictates. Just making sure that you’re engaged in each play and engaged in each day and really just staying in the present … just work hard, and take each day for what it is — a blessing — and keep pushing forward.”

The Trojans will face No. 6 Loyola Marymount University, No. 13 host Cal Poly University, SLO, No. 4 Florida State and No. 3 UCLA.

Despite gearing up to face multiple ranked opponents, Scoles said the team remains unfazed.

“We just take it game by game and know that each one will be a battle,” Scoles said. “Regardless of who we play, we always have the mindset that anyone can win on any given day. So we just trust in our training, show up and give our opponents the most amount of respect by playing our best level of volleyball.”

Head Coach Dain Blanton said he enjoys the challenges presented by his team’s opponents. 

“We like to play the best so we can get better, and that’s exactly how we will use this weekend,” Blanton said. “We are getting to the part of the season when you are trying to put everything together, everything you’ve worked on to this point, and we’re slowly starting to refine it.

The Trojans have yet to play both LMU and Cal Poly this season. Sophomore Megan Kraft said the team isn’t paying much attention to the rankings of the teams ahead of the tournament.

“We expect to play great opponents, like always,” Kraft said. “It doesn’t matter how high they are seeded or not, because everyone is getting really good. So, just playing each other hard, elevating the level at practice always helps prepare against tough competition.”

With a short week to prepare, the Trojans are making the most of their practice time, focusing on serving and passing in order to force opponents out of their systems. 

The premier matchup for the Trojans will be their rematch with UCLA, who handed the Trojans their only loss of the season, a 3-2 defeat back in early March during the Battle for L.A. Invitational.

“It’s really exciting. Both of us have had time to develop and lineups have changed a little bit,” Kraft said. “We’re really excited to play hard and see what happens … We’re definitely keeping them in the back of our minds.”

Scoles said the team is treating itself as the “underdog” and has become more motivated leading up to the matchup against the Bruins.

“Having that loss under our belt made us hungrier,” Scoles said. “Anytime we play UCLA it’s always a battle … Let the best team win.”