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The first major weekend of NCAA Beach Volleyball has come and gone and the pre-season top 10 took to the sand with a championship mindset. Many came out on top but some didn’t finish as strongly as hoped. Everyone is certainly ready for the roller coaster of another season and if this season was a preview, so are we.
Everyone was excited to take to the sand, and seeing the results for the first weekend of play made us excited for the 2nd NCAA Championship in May. With some teams having played 6 matches already, the records on the AVCA Coaches Poll can seem a little off, but the powerhouses who still are on top have earned the respect from multiple successes.
Last year brought us the first NCAA Championship for the sport, and heading into the 2nd full season there are even more schools joining the sport. Need 45 schools to become an official NCAA Championship sport, Beach Volleyball has expanded to nearly double that number with over 70 schools with scholarship driven programs. With that in mind, more talent has joined the competition and will only raise the skill level of the already high caliber play that graces the sand.
Let’s run through the top 5 teams and their weekend successes and drawbacks.
#1 Southern California Trojans (2-0)
Beach Volleyball is in its second full season as an NCAA Championship sport. The Trojans are in their second full season of being #1. The Trojans started their 2017 season 2-0 with wins over #3 Pepperdine and #4 UCLA. Their drive for a 2nd National Championship is led by AVP and FIVB experienced seniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes. Claes and Hughes gained valuable experience over the summer as they competed and had great success on the AVP. USC extended their team match win streak to 32 straight, continuing their dominance in the young sport. The Trojans will look to continue their reign as the top team in the land next weekend versus #10 LSU and #12 Florida International.
#2 Florida State Seminoles (2-0)
Having a case of déjà vu? The Seminoles have been chasing the Trojans very closely for a second straight year, and it might not be too early to call for a repeat in the National Championship. Taking their first 2 wins of the year from #10 LSU and #9 Stetson, they too showed their dominance on the beach. Led by 5th year senior Leigh Andrew and sophmore Brooke Kuhlman, the Seminoles will look to new senior leadership in their 1s to take them back to the sand championship. The 'Noles will look to Coach of the Year and AVP alumni Brooke Niles for leadership and a player’s style of coaching to hopefully help them find the edge they need to take the top spot this season.
#3 Pepperdine Waves (1-1)
Going into the first weekend as the #4 team in the nation, Pepperdine had a chip on their shoulder as they headed into battle against #1 USC and #3 UCLA at the Pepperdine Kick-Off Tournament. The Waves didn’t disappoint. They took down the Bruins winning the first duel 3-2 with 3 set wins coming from their #2, #3 and #5 teams. That win set Pepperdine up with confidence against the reigning national champions Trojans. The Trojans proved to be too much for the Waves, taking them down 4-1. Though they left the weekend with a split record, they showed their skills and were bumped a spot in ranking to the #3 spot. Pepperdine showed they are not a team to sleep on and will be a force to be reckoned with throughout the season.
#4: UCLA Bruins (2-2)
Going into 2017, the UCLA Bruins were ranked #2 in the nation. There were no doubts that this year was the year that the Bruins were going to make a run for the championship. Now, it’s only the first week and definitely too early to make judgements against this incredibly skilled team, but this past weekend was definitely a wake up call. After going 2-0 the weekend before against CSU Bakersfield (5-0) and Cal Poly (4-1), the Bruins brought their confidence to the court against two major competitors. Unfortunately, Pepperdine and USC came prepared as well, dropping the Bruins in both duals in heart breaking fashion. The Waves took the Bruins all the way to 3-2, taking them down in their lower teams and giving the Bruins their first loss of the year. USC followed up in the second dual, handedly taking down the Bruins 4-1. Though losses are not helpful to rankings, losing to the (now) #3 and #1 teams in the nation will not effect you greatly. The Bruins hold strong in the top 5 and look to straighten out their winning ways next weekend, hosting the East Meets West Invitational. The Bruins will have 4 tough teams to take on over the weekend which will pit them against #10 LSU, #12 FIU, #7 Georgia State, and #2 Florida State.
#5 Hawai’i (4-0)
The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors are known for their volleyball teams, both indoor and beach, and they are getting the recognition they deserve. Starting the season off 4-0, the island team has began strong and hopes to continue their run into the coming weeks. Their weekend brought them four strong teams at the Arizona Invitational and left them with four wins at the end of the weekend. The strength of their victories not only came in the ranking of the teams but the scores in which they won. The scores from the weekend had the Rainbow Warriors taking duals from #12 Arizona State (4-1), #8 Arizona (5-0), Jacksonville (5-0) and #11 Grand Canyon (4-1). Driven by the 4-0 records of their 2s, 3s, and 5s teams, Hawai’i will look to be the team to beat in the coming weeks as the try and continue their win streak to 5 and beyond. They will welcome #9 Stetson and Loyola Marymount to Queens Beach in Oahu next weekend.
Rankings and More Information
For more information beyond the top 5, including the top 15 teams, other teams considered for rankings visit the AVCA Coaches Poll. For even more information related to the NCAA and the sport of Beach Volleyball be sure to visit the NCAA Beach Volleyball site.
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