Thursday, 18 April 2024
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NCAA beach volleyball: No. 1 USC dominates in Florida, No. 2 UCLA tops East-West

NCAA beach volleyball: No. 1 USC dominates in Florida, No. 2 UCLA tops East-West

Alana Embry of Hawai’i covers the line against LSU/Mark Rigney photo

Perennial power USC enjoyed a fruitful trip to Florida as rival UCLA led the West’s charge over the East on fabled Manhattan Beach. Our NCAA beach volleyball report also recaps the rest of a busy week and sets the stage for an upcoming weekend chock-full of midseason conference tournaments.  

Champs sizzle in Sunshine State

 The training wheels are off and the serious pedaling on a four-peat has begun for Coach Dain Blanton’s USC juggernaut.

Behind the dominating top pair of Megan Kraft and Delaynie Maple, and a portal-fueled peloton of road-tested veterans, the Women of Troy seemingly hit another gear this past weekend during the two-day FAU Invitational on the wind-blown shores of the Atlantic in Pompano Beach, Florida.

The three-time defending national champions notched a resounding 4-1 victory over No. 5 TCU in a rematch of the 2023 NCAA single-elimination semifinal. In the highlight match of the weekend nationwide, Kraft and Maple handed the Horned Frogs’ Hailey Hamlett and Anhelina Khmil their first loss of the season by an air-tight 21-19, 18-21, 15-13 margin.

Ranked No. 1 in the AVCA coaches poll and winners of 12 in a row, the Women of Troy also blistered formidable foes familiar with Pompano’s white coral sand – No. 12 Florida International (14-3) and No. 16 Florida Atlantic (10-7) – without dropping a match. 

Karla Cantero of Palm Beach Atlantic tries to keep the point alive/Stephen Burns photo

In the opening dual of the weekend against Division-II Palm Beach Atlantic, Blanton gave court time to reserves Delaney Karl and Grace Hong at the 5s, USC’s lone dropped match.

Senior All-Americans Kraft and Maple (17-1 in 2024) also took a 21-15, 21-16 victory over FIU’s previously undefeated Giada Bianchi and Reka Orsi Toth, who had been named the AVCA national pair of the week for the previous weekend. A 4-0 record earned Kraft and Maple the AVCA’s recognition as national pair of the week.

“There is so much parity at the top, so for these No. 1 teams, there’s so little room for error,” Blanton told us. “Megan and Delaynie are extremely consistent. They know how to win. They know to shift into that next gear in the clutch and that’s hard to teach.”

USC is 16-2, with the only wrong turns coming during the season’s opening week in Hawai’i against Stanford in pool play and to UCLA in the title dual of the…

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