International Volleyball

LSU makes waves, but it will be USC vs. UCLA in beach volleyball

LSU makes waves, but it will be USC vs. UCLA in beach volleyball

LSU’s Emily Meyer with the one-handed dig against UCLA/Stephen Burns photo

For the second day in a row, LSU made the biggest waves at the NCAA’s National Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship, pulling off the most spectacular upset in the tournament’s history.

But when the sand in Gulf Shores, Alabama, had settled on Saturday, the nationals had returned to normalcy. The two overwhelming favorites had taken care of business and created exactly the matchup everyone expected.

The title dual on Sunday (ESPN, 11 a.m. Eastern) will have an all-too-familiar look when top-seeded USC meets second-seeded UCLA. The proud programs from the disbanding Pac-12 will reprise their battles from the NCAA finals of 2019, 2021 and 2023.

Seeded No. 11 in the field of 17, LSU had rewarded its vocal fans with an epic rally in the quarterfinals that took down third-seeded Stanford 3-2, creating more fabulous TV for a national audience on ESPN2. That came on the heels of the Bayou Bengals’ 3-2 stunner against sixth-seeded TCU on Friday.

But sustaining that momentum in 80-degree heat and 83% humidity with roughly a 60-minute turnaround proved a bridge too far against UCLA in the semifinals. The Bruins (35-6) put a 3-1 end to LSU’s Gulf Coast magic-carpet ride.

Jaden Whitmarsh and Tessa Van Winkle at the 4s outscored Amber Hayes and Skylar Martin by a combined 41-20 margin. UCLA’s crack top pair of Lexy Denaburg and Maggie Boyd got past Gabi Bailey and Ellie Shank 21-19, 21-14. And 3s duo Jessie Smith and Kenzie Brower tallied the clinching point against Ella Larkin and Aubrey O’Gorman 21-19, 21-19.

The noteworthy exception for Coach Russell Brock’s feisty underdogs was the 2s team of Parker Bracken and Reilly Allred, the never-say-die heroines of their wild win over Stanford. (More about that below in our recap of the quarterfinals.)

Parker and Reilly took IVs to rehydrate and then soldiered through a 23-21, 21-18 victory over Bruins second-team All-Americans Peri Brennan and Devon Newberry. LSU’s 5s had won the first set of that unfinished match.

The Sandy Tigs had taken down two higher-seeded opponents, “so we knew it was going to be a dogfight,” said Smith, a 6-foot junior who is 24-11 overall and 3-0 in the tournament teaming with Brower.

Meanwhile, USC (36-5) maintained a laser-like focus in its quest for a fourth consecutive NCAA beach title. The Women of Troy disposed of fifth-seeded Cal Poly (31-7) in the semifinals 3-0 in such workmanlike fashion that the…

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