Final College Beach Volleyball Power Rankings: Upsets Highlight Penultimate Weekend
Just when things were beginning to settle in, when it seemed the top six spots were all but secure in their footing – they hadn’t, after all, changed in more than a month – and the bottom two were left open, beach volleyball happened.
It happened in Santa Monica, when LMU pulled off the unprecedented not once, but twice, at the WCC Championships, beating Pepperdine for the first time in school history, and then doing it again in the double-final.
And on the same day that the WCC alas named a champion without a Wave as a Mascot, the Golden Bears of California upset Cal Poly, 3-2, a recipe for a bit of mayhem everywhere in the rankings.
With less than a week before Selection Sunday, here is our final beach volleyball power rankings.
1. UCLA (28-1, previously #1)
It is not often a program can hold the top position from the end of one year all the way through the finale of the regular season of the next. Well done by UCLA, which has been a model of consistency and dominance all season long.
Now, though, is when it counts. Pac-12 Championships on rival turf as USC this weekend will be followed by NCAA Championships at Gulf Shores next weekend. Now is when it truly matters if the Bruins can stay atop the ranks.
2. USC (24-4, previously #2)
The Trojan Win Machine continues to roll onward, with two wins over teams — Cal Poly, GCU — with outside shots of making the NCAA Tournament.
This weekend, though, is what beach fans should be thrilled to watch, with the Pac-12 Tournament. There’s a bit of poetry to it, too. USC opened its season with UCLA, and that’s exactly how, barring no major upsets, it’ll end, first with Pac-12s this weekend, then with NCAAs the next.
3. Florida State (28-5, previously #3)
What a phenomenal season for the Seminoles, one that began with a bit of adversity and ended — well, not ended yet, there’s still the NCAA Tournament to come — with 12 straight wins, the final of which came for their fourth consecutive CCSA title.
The fact that it came over LSU, too, adds an extra bonus, for it was the Tigers who handed Florida State its first loss of the season, and it was the Tigers who could have claimed the third seed in the NCAA Tournament with a win.
Now Florida State simply waits out the Pac-12 and Big West tournaments this weekend to see where it lands on Selection Sunday.
4. LSU (29-6, previously #4)
I’ve mentioned before in this column that losses can be valuable. It was valuable for USC to lose to Pepperdine. It was valuable for UCLA to lose to USC. It was valuable for Florida State to lose to LSU and I’d expect the reverse to be true as well, particularly at this point in the season.
Losses are informative, and the excellent coaching staff at LSU is likely to take every lesson possible from the CCSA championship loss to Florida State and spin it into something gold. The Tigers’ spot in Gulf Shores has long been locked up, making the first weekend in May a simple matter of timing. Now LSU has two weeks to fix the holes or gaps helpfully pointed out by Florida State, just in time for the NCAA Tournament.
5. Hawai’i (24-7, previously #6)
Alas, we have movement between the five and six! For much of the past two months, Hawai’i and Pepperdine have remained affixed to the five and six positions. Last weekend, the Waves were stunned twice by LMU in the WCC finals — a team Hawai’i beat in a pair of matches the week before.
Yes, Pepperdine has the head to head over the Bows, but timing matters, and the two haven’t seen each other in quite a bit. Hawai’i now has the Big West tournament this weekend to make its final push into Gulf Shores.
6. Pepperdine (20-9, previously #5)
Eleven years ago, Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Martins Plavins authored what is considered the greatest upset in Olympic beach volleyball history when they beat Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, 21-19, 21-18 in the first round of pool play. What many don’t understand about that loss is that it actually paved the easiest path possible for Dalhausser and Rogers when it mattered most — when bracket play began, and they were able to avoid the gauntlet of Emanuel and Ricardo, Marcio and Fabio, Sean Rosenthal and Jake Gibb, as well as the Russians, until one emerged for the gold medal match.
LMU beating Pepperdine is by no means the greatest upset in college beach volleyball history. It’s hardly even an upset; LMU is really good. But if Pepperdine does take the six seed, instead of the five, that means the Waves won’t have to see UCLA — if the Bruins take the one seed — until the finals, should both win their first two. The loss to LMU could have been a blessing in disguise, making the path a tad — just a tad, not a lot — easier to make it back to the finals.
7. Stetson (29-8, previously #8)
Look at Stetson go! Three weeks ago, when the Hatters suffered four straight losses, to LSU, UCLA, Florida International and TCU, you could have called them finished. Done. No shot at Gulf Shores. And then they peeled off 13 straight wins to end the season, including a huge one over East Coast rival FIU. Now they are the beneficiaries of any upsets that happen on the West Coast, like Cal beating Poly last weekend.
I’d expect Stetson to be back in the tournament after a narrow miss from a year ago.
8. LMU (27-11, previously unranked)
This one could rankle some feathers. I’m ok with that. Call it recency bias. Call it my admiration for John Mayer bias. Call it what you will. But I’m happy to make an argument that LMU — unless Poly or Long Beach wins the Big West, or Berkeley the Pac-12 — should be in the NCAA Tournament.
I think how a team is performing at the end of the season should be weighed heavier than how it did in the beginning. Wins in April should be considered more relevant than wins or losses in February or March. I don’t think any team is currently more capable — as proven at the WCC Championships — of engineering an upset than LMU.
In the past two weeks, the Lions have proven to be on par with Pepperdine and Hawai’i, going 2-1 against the Waves on the weekend after a pair of narrow, 2-3 losses to Hawai’i that could have gone either way.
Now, if Poly or Long Beach wins the Big West, they should get that spot. But unless that happens, my vote — which counts for nothing, by the way — is for LMU to take the final at large berth.
First Four Out
Cal Poly (21-10)
Long Beach State (18-9)
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