The first 8 hours and 30 minutes of a morning-to-late-afternoon opening-day marathon in the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship had plodded along with precious few highlights, much less high drama.

Then, in the last of nine duals, LSU played TCU, and fans on the white sand in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and a national TV audience on ESPNU had something to get excited about.

The natural geographic rivals and former conference antagonists staged a down-to-the-wire thriller that produced the lone upset on Friday. LSU (26-11), seeded 11th, took down sixth-seeded TCU (29-8) with the dominoes falling fast and furious over the last 10 minutes or so of a 3-2 nail-biter in which four of the matches were extended to the three-set limit.

“Today was amazing,” LSU coach Russell Brock said. “It was clear that we would need to play well and commit to battling for the full match. We got behind early, but the resolve and commitment were even more clear.

“You could feel the momentum change halfway through and the Tigers were making a move. I am so proud of how all our pairs fought.”

A vocal contingent of fans had made the roughly 4-hour trip from the Bayou Country to the Redneck Riviera, so the Tigers enjoyed almost a home-sand edge, and their players once again responded by pulling off a stunner.

The other biggest upset of the 2024 beach season occurred in Baton Rouge, where LSU knocked off three-time defending national champion and No. 1-ranked USC during its landmark Death Volley Invitational in late March.

But if LSU had shown the capability of reaching dizzying heights, the vertically-challenged Bayou Bengals also had a track record of inconsistency during a campaign with double-digit losses. Graduation and the transfer portal left Brock scrambling for blockers, and the taller starters on three of the five courts against TCU were 5-foot-10 Parker Bracken at the 2s, 5-9 Amber Haynes at the 4s and 5-10 Emily Meyer at the 5s.

After TCU’s newly minted first-team AVCA All-America pair of lefty junior Hailey Hamlett and sophomore Anhelina Khmil took a 21-17, 21-18 victory over LSU’s second-team All-Americans Gabi Bailey and Ellie Shank at the 1s, the three-set fun got started.

The Sandy Tigs got even when Hayes and feisty 5-foot-4 freshman Skylar Martin took the tiebreaker 15-9 over Morgan Williams and Tara Patton. The CCSA pair of the year, sophomore Bracken and 5-9 senior Reilly Allred, gave LSU a 2-1 advantage, winning the third set 16-4 over 6-foot Sutton MacTavish and 6-2 Alex Parkhurst.

TCU made it 2-2 a couple of minutes later, Anete Namike and Olivia Clines closed out Meyer and 5-7 freshman Yali Ashush 15-11. The ESPNU cameras had just enough time to flip over to the 3s court for the last 3-4 points of clinching tiebreaker, won 15-12 by Aubrey O’Gorman and reliable junior Ella Larkin over Emma Glagau and Ana Vergara. The LSU duo had stayed alive in the match by pulling out the second set 23-21. A 6-foot-3 junior who did play a match in 2023, O’Gorman improvement has been godsend for Brock’s squad.

“There wasn’t one pair that didn’t play the way we train,” Brock said. “We’ve expected Reilly and Parker to win big matches all year long and they continue to come through. I’m especially proud of Aubrey, Ella, Amber and Skylar. Since they started playing together half way through the season, they just keep beating teams that don’t expect to lose.”

A day that kicked off at 9 a.m. Eastern finally ended with a giddy scene as the Tigers players made a mosh pit on the court at a few minutes before 6:30 p.m., with shadows lengthening by the Gulf of Mexico. LSU is 3-0 in elimination games against the Horned Frogs from Fort Worth, who had been an NCAA semifinalist in 2023. LSU and TCU had been members of the CCSA before the latter jumped to Conference-USA this season.

The Tigers’ reward is a berth in the quarterfinals on Saturday against Stanford. The Cardinal bounced LSU 5-0 during the Death Volley.

The other quarterfinal duals will see USC play Loyola Marymount, Florida State face Cal Poly and UCLA meet California. Details on the results that put those teams into the second day of competition in Gulf Shores follow:

Quinn Perry of Cal Poly) blocks Arizona State’s Lexi Sweeney/Will Chu Photography

Friday’s recaps

Stanford 3, Georgia State 0: The third-seeded Cardinal (32-5) dominated the 14th-seeded mid-major Sandy Panthers (26-13). Stanford was the only team on the first day to win the first sets on all five courts. The young Cardinal  won in sweeps at the 2s, 1s and 3s and held comfortable leads in the second sets of the two unfinished matches. First-team All-Americans Xolani Hodel and freshman sensation Brooke Rockwell put a 21-9, 21-18 beatdown on Georgia State’s popular Ferary twins, Angel and Bella.

Stanford’s Brooke Rockwell/Mark Rigney photo

Cal 3, Long Beach State 1: In a highly competitive matchup, the seventh-seeded Golden Bears (22-13) had numerous tense moments before eliminating the 10th-seeded Beach (28-10). Cal’s clincher came in three-set victory (15-10 in the tiebreaker) by the 4s pair of Portia Sherman and Jenna Colligan after sweeps by the 5s and 2s, Although Long Beach State’s top pair of sophomore All-Americans Malia Gementara and Taylor Hagenah won on the No. 1 court, the Beach were bounced by the Bears in the first round for the second year in a row.

UCLA 3, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 0: The Bruins (33-6), the 2023 national runner-up, had more difficulty with the plucky Islanders (28-10) than is typical when a No. 2 seed meets a 15. Bruins’ pairs at 3s, 1s and 5s prevailed in sweeps, but two unfinished duals would have gone three sets. In a highly entertaining match of No. 1 pairs, All-Americans Lexy Denaburg and Maggie Boyd ground out a 21-16, 24-22 triumph over Chloe Tome and fab freshman Cassie Dodd.

USC’s Nicole Nourse goes up with North Florida’s Katie Camp/Stephen Burns photo

USC 3, North Florida 0: The first step to a four-peat was accomplished by the top-seeded Women of Troy (34-5). The 16th-seeded Ospreys (25-12) were swamped after winning the play-in dual. AVCA coach of the year Dain Blanton enjoyed a stress-free hour or so on the sand as USC rolled at his 3s, 4s and 2s all took business-as-usual sweeps.

Sydney Miller of Hawai’i, left, and LMU’s Anna Pelloia joust/Will Chu Photography

Loyola Marymount 3, Hawaii 1: The West Coast Conference champion Lions (28-13) bounced the Big West champion Rainbow Wahine (24-12) out of the beach NCAAs in the first round for a third consecutive year. In the 8 vs. 9 dual, Loyola Marymount showed the depth in its lineup by winning at the 3s, 5s and 1s after Hawaii put the first point on board at the 2s.

Cal Poly’s Izzy Martinez/Mark Rigney photo

Cal Poly 3, Arizona State 0: The Mustangs (30-6) out of the Big West, seeded fifth, advanced at the expense of the 12th-seeded Sun Devils (21-10), who made their NCAA tournament debut. Cal Poly looked sharp as its 2s, 1s and 3s pairs all won in sweeps. Particularly impressive were top duo of first-team AVCA All-Americans Ella Connor and Izzy Martinez, who topped second-team A-A selections Ava Williamson and Daniella Kensinger 21-18, 21-19.

Florida State 3, Washington 1: The fourth-seeded Seminoles (31-7) had to work hard to oust the 13th-seeded Huskies (20-16). FSU got sweeps at the 3s and 4s, with the clinching point notched by top pair Maddie Anderson and Alexis Durish in a 19-21, 21-15, 15-11 victory over Piper Monk-Heidrich and Maggy Rabitsch. In their first appearance in the NCAAs, the Huskies pushed three of the matches to tiebreakers, and the 2s pair of freshman Zoey Henson and junior Lauren Whitlock topped Alli Hansen and Anna Long (15-13 in the third).

North Florida 3, Chattanooga 0 (play-in): The Ospreys enjoyed a moment in the morning sun by eliminating the 17th-seeded Mocs (19-10) in the play-in dual that opened the tournament. North Florida swept at the 1s and 2s, before the 4s pair of Cameron Humphries and Hayden Woodridge clinched the program’s first NCAA-tournament victory, outscoring Kaye Gresham and Paige Gallentine 42-23. Morgan Romano and Julia Lawrence at the 5s were the only duo for Ohio Valley Conference champion Chattanooga to take a set in the program’s first trip to the nationals.

TV coverage

After the first day of the NCAA tournament aired on ESPNU, the quarterfinals and semifinals on Saturday will shift to higher-profile ESPN2. The first of the round of 8 duals will start at 10 a.m. Eastern. The streaming ESPN+ subscription service will piggy-back ESPN2’s feed, as well as providing the option of separate streams of each of the five courts.

The championship dual on Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. Eastern, will be telecast on the flagship ESPN channel, with each court streamed on ESPN+.


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