Monday, 26 February 2024

International Volleyball

a fourth straight NCAA title

USC beach volleyball

HERMOSA BEACH, California — One mustn’t think about pink elephants.

Tricky thing, that. Once someone mentions something as peculiar as a pink elephant, how are you supposed to think of anything else? Imagine the challenge, then, of Delaynie Maple, Megan Kraft, and USC Beach Volleyball coach Dain Blanton, only instead of a pink elephant, this one is parading around in garnet and gold. It is the one thing they mustn’t think about, and yet it is what’s on the collective NCAA Beach Volleyball mind, the proverbial elephant on the beach: Can USC win four straight NCAA Championships?

Such a feat has never been done before in the young sport, which celebrates its ninth year as an official member of the NCAA. The only volleyball athlete Blanton could recall ever starting four straight years and collecting an NCAA Championship in all four of them is Ricci Luyties, the wildly athletic setter for UCLA who ran the table from 1981-84.

This May, Kraft and Maple can become the second and third.

But thinking of such things does no good. Even Maple’s parents will catch themselves when bringing it up in conversation with their daughter.

“My parents will bring it up and then cut themselves off,” Maple said. “I try not to think about it. I try and just think about each day because if you think about it too long you’d just go crazy about it. That’s something I’ve tried to do the past few years is not to think about it until the week of because you just build it up way too much in your head because it would be so cool to go four for four but there’s so many steps you need to take to get there.”

USC celebrated a third straight NCAA Championship/USC photo

As it goes with any national-championship aspirations, the steps, indeed, are many, though not nearly that of 2023. USC was considered — and this is still a strange sentence to write — something of an underdog entering 2023. As much as a back-to-back NCAA Champion can be considered an underdog, anyway. The Trojans had lost 13 of their 24 total players, a list that included soon-to-be AVP champions in Julia Scoles and Hailey Harward; Tina Graudina, a blocker who had competed in an Olympic Games; and a consummate winner in Sammy Slater, among others.

“It was definitely a different fall,” Maple said last winter.

Different fall, same spring result: A host of Trojans sprinting into the teal Gulf of Mexico, celebrating their most unexpected NCAA…

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