Tuesday, 21 March 2023

International Volleyball

UCLA beach embracing underdog mentality despite beginning year on top

UCLA beach embracing underdog mentality despite beginning year on top

This is a look at the top 16 teams in NCAA beach volleyball this season. Why 16? Because that’s how many get bids to the NCAA Beach Championship May 5-7 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. And this year there’s a new single-elimination format: One and done. USC is the two-time defending champion after beating Florida State in the 2022 final and UCLA in 2021:

HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — There are few, if any, people in the beach volleyball world who understand the mental workings of Stein Metzger as well as Jeff Alzina. For seven years, he coached a young Metzger when he was starring on the AVP Tour. When Metzger took the head-coaching job at UCLA, it was Alzina who signed up to be his volunteer assistant, there to build a program into a force that could one day rival, even surpass, USC.

If you were to tell Alzina that exactly one coach of the seven interviewed by Rob Espero did not pick UCLA as the No. 1 team in the nation, he’d be able to tell you, without a moment’s deliberation, who that coach would be: Stein Metzger.

And he’d be right.

“Stein loves to be the underdog, and I was his coach for seven full seasons on Tour, and so I know his psychology really well,” Alzina said years ago. “He wants to do everything to be No. 1, but never let anyone know, and including his team and partners. Let’s just lay back and let’s let somebody else take all the limelight and then we’ll just surprise everybody. That’s his comfort level.

“When he got really, really good as a player, he got to where people were going, ‘This is the next Karch [Kiraly]. This guy’s 6-foot-3, super yoked, big, long arms. He looks like Karch, plays like Karch. He’s on the left side, went to UCLA.’ It looked like the second coming. And he was like, ‘I never want that. I don’t want anyone to think like that. I’m just me and I just want to be the underdog and keep surprising people.’ ”

Try as Metzger might, there is no hiding UCLA this season.

There is no misrepresenting this Bruins group as an underdog. The Bruins boast the most loaded lineup in the country, top to bottom. Only one player from the 2022 team, Lea Monkhouse, is not in this year’s lineup, and Metzger has done an excellent job filling in even that lone hole, adding transfers Kelli Greene-Agnew, who won 77 matches for LSU, and Haley Hallgren, who won an NCAA championship at USC to go along with 84 individual victories. And UCLA’s once-young core of Lexy Denaburg,…

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