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Pac-12 Championship Beach Volleyball

Pac-12 Championships Present Clean Slate, New Mindset

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LOS ANGELES – It’s a clean slate. That’s what UCLA beach volleyball coach Stein Metzger calls it.

The 28 wins leading up to this weekend’s Pac-12 Championships? The unimpeached No. 1 ranking his Bruins have held since April 2 of 2018?

Doesn’t matter. The Bruins were still on the same footing as all but two teams – Oregon and Utah, which had to play a pigtail match to play into UCLA – during the opening day of the Pac-12 Championships, which will continue through Saturday at USC’s Merle Norman Stadium.

“The way we look at it is: We had a great season, 28-1, but everyone is back to square one at this point,” Metzger said after UCLA swept Oregon, 3-0. “We’ve got a lot to earn. We’ve got a lot of teams out there who are hunting for us and have been training hard so our expectations are that it’s not going to be easy.”

At this point in the season, there are no easy roads. If anybody needed witness what a clean slate looks like, rewind to a week ago, when LMU, which had been a bit mercurial throughout the season, stunned its way to a WCC title, upending Pepperdine for the first time.

Things just tend to get a bit noisy, a bit weird, a lot unpredictable, this time of year. There are expectations. A little more media attention. Fans constantly referencing the fact that UCLA is, indeed, No. 1, and has been for 389 consecutive days.

“People come up to us, ‘Oh, you’re No. 1!’” court two blocker Lily Justine said. “It’s easy to get unfocused but I look at it as an in-the-moment type thing. I just try to stay present.”  

So yes, UCLA acknowledges the presence of all of that – the minor circus that surrounds the final few weeks of any sporting season. The Bruins simply choose – or try their best – not to pay it much mind.

“You just gotta put your horse blinders on and not worry about it,” said Sarah Sponcil, whose only match of the day, alongside Justine, went unfinished, though they were up 21-13, 19-13. “It’s for sure going to be more pressure but the more we stay together and not worry about the noise going on we’re going to be better.”

One team does it’s best to treat it like any other match, another, at the other end of the bracket, takes a different approach.

“It’s championship season,” USC coach Anna Collier said. “You have season, split in two, then you have championship season. It’s a different mindset. We’re not working on any more. I’m not teaching them. The mindset is just to beat them. We’re Trojans so we say ‘Fight on’ but that really is our mindset: fight. We’re not playing to play. We’re playing to win.”

No matter the mindset, whether it be to simply maintain the exceptional level of play it has all season, as it the case with UCLA, or to raise the bar a bit for the “championship season,” as it is with USC, both, on Thursday, worked.

UCLA swept Oregon in its lone match of the day, while USC did the same with Washington two matches later.

“It’s a little frustrating,” Terese Cannon said of not being able to finish her match, as courts four, five and one all finished first, all wins for USC. “We wanted our match to count but what can you do?”

Cannon was mindful that, what she can do, for now, is embrace the fact that sweeps, especially early on, especially when quick, are good. It means the rest of the team has taken care of business, that the Pac-12 Championships are going well.

That the clean slate remains clean.

And it will begin all over again tomorrow, when USC plays Arizona State at 10:30. The Sun Devils engineered the only true upset of the day, a No. 6 seed topping the three as they beat Cal Berkeley in the third set on the final court of the match.

UCLA will take the court after, matching up against Arizona, which beat Stanford in the opening round.

In the contenders bracket remains Washington and Berkeley, who open up Friday’s competition at 9 a.m. Stanford and Oregon, the nightcap on Thursday, started three hours behind. We will update this story when the match finishes.

MATCH 1: #9 OREGON def. #8 UTAH, 3-1
1. Brooke Nuneviller/Lindsey Vander Weide (ORE) def. Dani Drews/Tawnee Luafalemana (UTAH), 21-17, 15-21, 15-10
2. Megan Yett/Kenzie Koerber (UTAH) def. Maddy Silberger-Franek (ORE), 21-13, 21-16
3. Lauren Sproule/Jessica Villela (UTAH) vs. Emily Mattoon/Lauren Page (ORE), 26-24, 14-21, suspended
4. Josie Cole/Ally Haden (ORE) def. Phoebe Grade/Olivia Teerlink (UTAH), 22-20, 21-10
5. Elise Ferreira/Carly Wallace (ORE) def. Keana Smalls/Kinga Windisch (UTAH), 19-21, 21-15, 15-12
Order of finish: 4, 5, 2, 1*

MATCH 2: #4 ARIZONA def. #5 STANFORD, 3-0
1. Olivia Hallaran/Mia Mason (ARIZ) vs. Tori Ashkinos/Charlie Ekstrom (STAN), 21-17, 18-21, 8-5, suspended
2. Jonny Baham/Brooke Burling (ARIZ) vs. Morgan Hentz/Sunny Villapando (STAN), 8-21, 21-15, 7-13, suspended
3. Natalie Anselmo/Madison Rigdon (ARIZ) def. Blake Sharp/Amelia Smith (STAN), 21-17, 16-21, 15-7
4. Sarah Blacker/Jasmine Safar (ARIZ) def. Maddie Dailey/Jordan McKinney (STAN), 21-14, 21-13
5. Ainise Havili/Dana Parker (ARIZ) def. Kat Anderson/Chelsea Mohl (STAN), 21-15, 18-21, 15-7
Order of finish: 4, 5, 3*

MATCH 3: #1 UCLA 3 def. #9 Oregon 0
1. Megan McNamara/Nicole McNamara (UCLA) def. Brooke Nuneviller/Lindsey Vander Weide (ORE), 21-13, 21-17
2. Lily Justine/Sarah Sponcil (UCLA) vs. August Raskie/Maddy Silberger-Frankek (ORE), 21-13, 19-13, suspended
3. Zana Muno/Abby Van Winkle (UCLA) vs. Emily Mattoon/Lauren Page (ORE), 21-13, 23-22, suspended
4. Lea Monkhouse/Savvy Simo (UCLA) def. Josie Cole/Ally Haden (ORE), 21-13, 21-10
5. Izzy Carey/Lindsey Sparks (UCLA) def. Elise Ferreira/Carly Wallace (ORE), 21-12, 21-8
Order of finish: 5, 4, 1*

1. Oluoma Okaro/Ashley Wenz (ASU) def. Mima Mirkovic/Caroline Schafer (CAL), 21-19, 21-18
2. Katelyn Carballo/Katie Cross (ASU) def. Maddie Micheletti/Jordan Polo (CAL), 14-21, 21-17, 15-12
3. Grace Campbell/Iya Lindahl (CAL) def. Emily Anderson/Lauren Weintraub (ASU), 21-17, 21-13
4. Kate Baldwin/Samantha Plaster (ASU) def. Alexia Inman/Mia Merino (CAL), 21-14, 21-17
5. Madison Dueck/Abby Waldburger (CAL) def. Cierra Flood/Ellyson Lundberg (ASU), 21-16, 21-19
Order of finish: 4, 5, 3, 1, 2*

MATCH 5: #2 USC def. #7 WASHINGTON, 3-0
1. Abril Bustamante/Tina Graudina (USC) Kristen Gengenbacher/Destiny Julye (WASH), 21-12, 21-12
2. Terese Cannon/Sammy Slater (USC) Kara Bajema/Shayne McPherson (WASH), 21-15, 15-16, suspended
3. Haley Hallgren/Alexandra Poletto (USC) Cat McCoy/Avie Niece (WASH), 21-19, 14-12, suspended
4. Joy Dennis/Maja Kaiser (USC) def. Emma Calle/Samantha Drechsel (WASH), 19-11, 21-11, 15-13
5. Cammie Dorn/Mollie Ebertin (USC) def. Chloe Newton/Callie Weber (WASH), 21-19, 21-18
Order of finish: 5, 4, 1*

MATCH 6: #7 WASHINGTON def. #8 UTAH, 3-2
1. Dani Drews/Tawnee Luafalemana (UTAH) def. Kristen Gengenbacher/Destiny Julye (WASH), 21-14, 21-13
2. Kara Bajema/Shayne McPherson (WASH) Kenzie Koerber/Megan Yett (UTAH), 21-17, 21-14
3. Cat McCoy/Avie Niece (WASH) def. Lauren Sproule/Jessica Villela (UTAH), 21-18, 18-21, 16-14
4. Emma Calle/Samantha Drechsel (WASH) def. Phoebe Grace/Olivia Teerlink (UTAH), 21-7, 21-13
5. Keana Smalls/Kinga Windisch (UTAH) def. Chloe Newton/Callie Weber (WASH), 18-21, 21-18, 15-13
Order of finish: 4, 5, 2, 1, 3*