#2 UCLA Beach Volleyball (29-4)
Round 1 Opponent: #7 LSU (26-6)
When: 9:00 AM PT, Friday, May 5, 2017
Round 2 Opponent: TBD
Where: Gulf Shores Public Beach, Gulf Shores, AL
Video: NCAA Live Stream
Live Stats: NCAA Game Center
Exactly a week ago, the #2 Bruins faced their biggest challenge of the season at that point--a Pac-12 Tournament semifinal match against the undefeated, top-ranked Trojans. Southern Cal entered that match with a 62-dual match winning streak and appeared to be heading towards a second straight NCAA crown. In arguably its best performance of the season, UCLA knocked off the Trojans and established that the Bruins are a serious national title contender in 2017.
USC remains the favorite, of course. After losing to the Bruins in the semifinal, the Trojans worked their way through the contenders bracket to earn a place in the final where they met the Bruins for the second time in the tournament. In the championship match, Southern Cal prevailed, and it a deserved #1 seed in the eight-team NCAA Tournament field.
The Bruins sit at the opposite end of the bracket from the Trojans. UCLA's prize for selection as the bracket's second-seed is a first-round match against #7 LSU. If the Bruins win, they'll play again at 2:00 PM against the winner of #3 Pepperdine vs. #6 Long Beach State. If the Bruins lose, they'll drop into the "elimination bracket" and play again at 11:00 AM.
The Bruins and Tigers have already tangled this season. Nearly two months ago, UCLA and LSU met in the opening match of the East Meets West Invitational at Manhattan Beach Pier with the Bruins escaping with a narrow 3-2 win. Aside from a dominant performance by the Megan and Nicole McNamara on court 1, all of the other contests were tight. UCLA eventually picked up points on courts 3 & 4, with both of the Bruin pairs (Savvy Simo & Torrey Van Winden, and Elise Zappia & Izzy Carey) needing three sets.
UCLA's pairings have changed since that day. Jordan Anderson is now Izzy Carey's partner, and that duo has played exceptionally well in the latter half of the season. And the other pairing has been quite good too, with Elise Zappia and Torrey Van Winden enjoying great success on court 3. For what it's worth, both of those partnerships won big points in UCLA's upset of USC last week.
The Bruins seem to be peaking at the right time. Pac-12 Coach of the Year Stein Metzger deserves much credit for putting together strong partnerships and showing great patience with a very young team.
Unlike the Pac-12 Tournament, there will be no easy games in the NCAA Tournament. Therefore, if the Bruins want another shot at knocking off the Trojans, they'll have to play consistently excellent volleyball throughout the weekend. Getting past LSU in the opener is a necessity; if UCLA drops into the elimination bracket after the first round, the path to the final will be extraordinarily difficult.
UCLA Beach Volleyball is set for success for the next few years with a wonderfully talented group of freshmen and sophomores. But the Bruins are good enough to win it all now too. If Coach Metzger can get his team to reproduce their performances from last week against the Trojans, the Bruins have a good chance of bringing home #114.