GULF SHORES, Ala. – The top-ranked and No. 2-seeded USC beach volleyball team (33-2) took down top-seeded No. 2-ranked Florida State (31-2) in a 3-1 decision in the winner’s bracket semifinal of the inaugural NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship on the sands of Gulf Place on Saturday, May 7. The victory avenged an early-season loss to the Seminoles and put the Women of Troy into the first-ever NCAA title match set for Sunday, May 8, at 1 p.m. PT. The Trojans match will be broadcast live nationally on TBS.
USC set a new school record with its 29th consecutive dual victory and cemented it on a win from its top pair of juniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes. The duo put together their 72nd consecutive win and pushed to 47-0 on the season with a 21-14, 21-19 win over Julie Brown and Jace Pardon on court one.
The Trojans scored the final point but Florida State had the first as Vanessa Freire and Sierra Sanchez narrowly edged USC juniors Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler, 21-19, 24-22, at the No. 3 position. The Trojans had a response from court five to knot the score at one-all, but just briefly. There, sophomore Jo Kremer and senior Zoe Nightingale cruised to a 21-14 win in their first set with Nikki Esposito and Hailey Luke, but let a five-point lead slip away in the second frame. The Seminoles took set point at 21-20 and 22-21, but the Trojan fives battled back to take a 24-22 win.
With the dual hanging in the balance, junior Sophie Bukovec and senior Alexa Strange were holding serve on court two with a 21-15 win over Victoria Paranagua and Kristina Pellitteri. It was a tight battle in set two, but the Trojans led, 17-16, when the match was suspended. Over at court four, sophomore Jenna Belton and freshman Abril Bustamante put a 21-17, 21-14 win into the books over Katie Horton and Annie Montgomery to inch the Trojans ahead, 2-1, in the dual. Claes and Hughes held a sizable lead in the second but the Seminoles crept back into the fray before the Women of Troy ended any comeback hopes on a tip-kill by Claes.
USC has a chance to repeat history and match a feat that the Trojans’ indoor volleyball team completed in 1980 and ‘81. In 1981, the Women of Troy won the first NCAA title under head coach Chuck Erbe. In the previous year, that squad won the 1980 AIAW crown, which was the final non-NCAA championship. The USC beach team won the final non-NCAA title (2015 AVCA) and is now in position to become the first-ever NCAA beach volleyball champion.
For more information on the USC beach volleyball team and a complete schedule, please visit USCTrojans.com and follow @USCBeach on Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, Instagram, and Snapchat. For more information on the inaugural NCAA beach volleyball championship, please visit NCAA.com/BeachVolleyball.