On a beautiful Friday afternoon at Merle Norman Stadium, unanimous No. 1 USC beach volleyball defeated No. 3 UCLA three sets to two to clinch the season series over their crosstown rival. With the win, the Trojans once again avenged their only defeat of the season thus far — to the Bruins in March — and improved their record to 28-1 entering the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Trojans started off the duel on a strong foot, claiming the first two available points. On Court 1, USC’s No. 2 tandem of sophomore Megan Kraft and graduate student Sammy Slater defeated the Bruins’ second pair of redshirt sophomore Jaden Whitmarsh and sophomore Devon Newberry in consecutive sets. After battling to a 22-20 victory in the first set, Kraft and Slater coasted in the second, easily winning 21-9 to claim the point.
Meanwhile on Court 2, USC’s No. 2 duo of junior twins Audrey and Nicole Nourse took down UCLA’s all-freshman tandem of Sophie Moore and Natalie Myszkowski, also in straight sets. Following a 21-17 victory in the first set, the Nourse twins took the second set 21-14 to claim another point for the Trojans.
USC entered the second round of matches needing just one win out of three in order to win the duel — and that didn’t take particularly long.
USC’s top pairing of graduate student Hailey Harward and senior Tina Graudina made sure to end things quickly, taking down UCLA’s No. 1 tandem of sophomore Lexy Denaburg and junior Abby Van Winkle. After battling to a 21-17 victory in the first set, Harvard and Graudina took the second set 21-10 to win the match in straight sets and clinch a victory for the Trojans.
“It was awesome,” said head coach Dain Blanton, who is currently in his third season at the helm of the Trojans’ program. “The girls played amazing. Our players were so locked in.”
Having already clinched the win, USC’s perfect record on the day came to a close on Court 2. After falling to the UCLA duo of senior Lea Monkhouse and freshman Jessie Smith 21-18 in set one, the Trojans’ No. 4 pairing of sophomore Delaynie Maple and graduate student Julia Scoles battled back to take the second set 21-13. However, Maple and Scoles would fall 22-20 in a hard-fought decisive third set.
To close out the duel, USC’s No. 5 tandem of senior Mollie Ebertin and graduate student Sunny Villapando fell to the UCLA duo of graduate student Marlie Monserez and sophomore Rileigh Powers. After dropping the first set 21-14, Ebertin and Villapando responded to take the second set 21-12, before falling 15-10 in the decisive third set.
In addition to taking down a crosstown rival, the win was particularly significant for the Trojans due to the fact that it came on Senior Day. For many of USC’s key contributors, including team captains Scoles, Graudina and Slater, Friday’s match was their final contest in Merle Norman Stadium.
“You don’t realize the range of emotions that kind of hit you after playing so many games here, knowing it’s your last one,” Slater said. “So it was really awesome that we were able to go out there and put our best foot forward and come out with a win.”
Having finished the regular season with a record of 28-1, the Trojans will now get ready for the Pac-12 Tournament, where they will be the top seed.
“Teams are gonna come out and want to beat us as bad as they can, just because we’re the one seed,” Slater said. “We just have to keep putting our foot on the gas and not let up.”
The tournament will be held in Tucson, Ariz. this upcoming Wednesday through Friday.