USC starts season strong with four consecutive wins

The Women of Troy set the tone for the season behind Tina Graudina and Sammy Slater.

No. 3 USC women’s beach volleyball hit the sand running this season with a 4-0 record. The Trojans went 4-1 and 5-0 over No. 9 Pepperdine on Feb. 25, followed by two 5-0 sweeps over No. 6 Cal Poly and No. 4 UCLA on Thursday.

Leading the Trojans from the No. 1 position, junior Tina Graudina and senior Sammy Slater rallied three high-energy sets to secure a 21-19, 18-21, 15-10 win and a 21-18, 21-16 win over Pepperdine. The matchup showcased big swings and the duo’s athleticism as Graudina dove off the court to save Slater’s dig. The pair brought that same energy and athleticism into the Thursday matchups with a 21-10, 21-17 win over Cal Poly and a 21-11, 22-24, 15-10 three-set win over UCLA.

The Women of Troy handed cross-town rival UCLA its first 5-0 loss since February 2018. The Trojans’ clean sweeps over UCLA and Cal Poly earned them their all-time 100th and 101st 5-0 victories.

“We focused on what they needed to do, while there was a lot going on all day,” coach Dain Blanton said. “[They were able to] manage and focus on [themselves] to collectively execute by doing their own.”

USC’s 5-0 sweep over the Waves in their second matchup was the first time in the series’ history either team won without dropping a single set.

Debuting their new collegiate partnership at the No. 2 position, graduates Haley Harward and Julia Scoles relied on communication and court awareness to come up with a 21-14, 21-17 win and a 21-15, 21-19 win over the Waves. Harward and Scoles kept it clean with a 21-14, 21-11 win against the Bruins and a 21-11, 21-14 win over the Mustangs.

Resuming where they had left off in 2020, against Pepperdine, twin sophomores Nicole and Audrey Nourse dominated their No. 5 court with an impressive 21-14, 21-14 win and a 21-13, 21-12 win. The Nourses demonstrated their strength as a duo, maintaining a balance of aggressive plays with control over the match. Against Cal Poly, the duo battled a 19-21, 21-18, 15-10 win and a 21-16, 21-18 win against UCLA, extending their win streak to 12. Marking only the third time a No. 5 pair has received the honor, the Nourse twins were selected as the Pac-12′s beach volleyball pair of the week for the week of Feb. 22.

At the No. 4 position, senior Joy Dennis and freshman Delaynie Maple recorded the only loss for the Trojans, dropping a tough three-setter to the Waves, 19-21, 21-18, 17-15. On Thursday, Dennis and Maple cleared back-to-back three-set battles for a 16-21, 23-21, 15-7 win over the Mustangs and a 19-21, 21-16, 15-10 win over the Bruins.

“It was a test with a lot of positives as they executed and [continue to] get progressively better. Our focus is on the process, not the outcome, but how can [they] prepare now,” Blanton said. “Our biggest goal is to be the last team standing.”

The Trojans will look to build on their momentum Sunday at the Pepperdine Invite in Malibu against No. 17 Long Beach State and No. 9 Pepperdine.

Correction on Mar. 5, 2021 at 5:47 p.m.: A previous headline of this story stated that USC started the season with four straight sweeps. USC’s first matchup of the season was a 4-1 win, not a sweep, over Pepperdine. The headline has been updated to reflect the accurate information.