Top-seeded USC won the final 2024 Pac-12 beach title

The odds are overwhelming that USC, UCLA or Stanford will emerge as the winner of the NCAA’s National Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship.

Their records paint a clear-as-day picture:

  •  USC and UCLA went 3-3 against each other.
  •  USC was 2-1 against Stanford.
  •  UCLA went 2-2 against Stanford.
  •  Against the rest of the NCAA beach volleyball world, USC, UCLA and Stanford were a combined 84-3.


That means the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in this weekend’s NCAA Championship won 96.5% of their duals that were not played against each other.

The daunting task that awaits the other 14 underdog teams in the NCAA bracket that hit the beach on Friday through Sunday in Gulf Shores, Alabama, is how to beat that statistical probability imposed by the powerhouse trio out of the soon-to-be-defunct Pac-12. Their only saving grace is that the tournament is single elimination.

Nonetheless, compelling history and that break-even record over six meetings thus far tell us that top-seeded USC (33-5) or second seed UCLA (32-6) are most likely to take a celebratory group swim in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico after the NCAA title dual on Sunday.

(What college-beach volleyball fan doesn’t know that the Women of Troy or the Bruins have been the only teams to savor that salty dip since the sport was sanctioned by the NCAA in 2016?)

UCLA’s Devon Newberry hits past USC’s Madison White/Andy J. Gordon photo

USC has its periscope focused on a four-peat. Yes, Coach Dain Blanton’s program has won three national titles in a row. UCLA twice during its archrival’s unprecedented run begrudgingly has settled for runners-up honors (2021 and ‘23,). The score of last year’s championship dual was 3-2, with the natty not decided until the Nourse twins (Audrey and Nicole) prevailed at the 3s in a third-set tiebreaker.

The kicker in the final year of the COVID era in beach volleyball is that 11 of the 20 starters from the 2023 title tussle return in key positions for a potential encore, including arguably the best top-court pairs in the college game: USC seniors Megan Kraft (123-12 in her career) and Delaynie Maple (126-13), and UCLA super senior Lexy Denaburg (130-36) and sophomore Maggie Boyd (57-13).

The only gate-crasher with a compelling chance to breach appears to be Stanford (31-5), although the young Cardinal squad had more success early in the season than late.

Teams with the proverbial puncher’s chance in a single-elimination format include fourth-seeded Florida State (30-7) and five seed Cal Poly (29-6). The Seminoles have gotten close to a title multiple times, but the Mustangs have fielded a more stable lineup. Their No. 1 duo of sophomores Ella Connor and Izzy Martinez has been right there with many of the collegiate game’s top pairs.

Looking for a potential bracket-buster in the bottom half of the 17-team draw? 

Tenth-seeded Long Beach State (28-9) is 8-5 in its last 13 and its opening-round foe, seven seed California (21-13), lugged down the regular-season stretch with a 6-7 record, giving the underdog Beach the edge in the key category of recent form. The voters on the latest AVCA coaches poll (released on Tuesday, two days after the selection committee seeded the field) put Long Beach State at No. 7 and Cal at No. 8.

The NCAA incorporated single elimination into the last two national tournaments. In 2022, eight first-round duals eliminated the losers before a (then) traditional double-elimination format kicked in for the remaining eight teams until a winner-take-all final. The 2023 event was the first to adopt full single elimination and a play-in dual for the 16th and 17th seeds was added, the winner to meet the No. 1 seed.

Since the advent of single-elimination, the first rounds and play-in have produced three seeded upsets. In 2022, No. 10 Georgia State knocked off No. 7 Grand Canyon 3-2. The 2023 tournament saw No. 17 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi top No. 16 UT-Martin 3-0 in the play-in, and No. 10 Stanford take down No. 7 Grand Canyon 3-2.

Friday’s schedule

Here’s the complete schedule for Friday’s action in Gulf Shores, with the first dual starting at 9 a.m. and each following roughly an hour later:

No. 16 North Florida vs. No. 17 Tennessee-Chattanooga (play-in); No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Washington; No. 5 Cal Poly vs. No. 12 Arizona State.

No. 1 USC vs. winner of North Florida-Chattanooga; No. 8 Loyola Marymount vs. No. 9 Hawaii; No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 15 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

No. 7 California vs. No. 10 Long Beach State; No. 3 Stanford vs. No. 14 Georgia State; No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 LSU.

The first of four quarterfinal duals is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. The tentative start time for the first of the two semifinals on Saturday is 2 p.m. Eastern. The championship dual on Sunday has a start time of 11 a.m. Eastern.

Click here for the ESPN schedule and viewing links.

And click here for our match-by-match analysis.


Let’s talk TV, weather

The entire three-day event from Gulf Shores will be telecast on linear cable by one of three ESPN channels, with coverage piggy-backed on the ESPN+ subscription service.

The nine duals on Friday will air on the third-tier ESPNU channel, starting at 9 a.m. Eastern. The first-round dual involving three-time defending NCAA champion USC, scheduled to start around noon Eastern, also will have each of the five courts covered with separate streams on ESPN+.

The linear feed will switch to ESPN2 on Saturday, starting with the first quarterfinal at 10 a.m. Eastern and continuing through the quarters and the semifinals. Each court for the duals on Saturday will have individual streams on ESPN+.

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

The NCAA beach-volleyball final on ESPN in 2023 averaged 380,000 viewers over its three-hour duration, a 208% increase from the 2022 title dual that aired on ESPN2. The start time this year is an hour earlier, which might affect the audience since the telecast will sign on at 8 a.m. Pacific time.

The weather in springtime on the fickle Redneck Riviera never can be taken for granted, but the long-range forecast for the weekend indicates no significant issues.

Friday’s outlook, according to The Weather Channel, calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the high 70s, a 12% threat of rain and offshore wind of 11 mph blowing from the southeast. Similar conditions are expected on Saturday, with the threat of rain increasing to a still-manageable 24%. The high on Sunday is expected to hit 80, with an 18% chance of rain and 10 mph wind out of the southeast, all-in-all fine weather for beach volleyball.

Pac-12, Pipers and Avas …

The NCAA selection committee sent the Pac-12 out with a bang, picking six of its teams (one automatic qualifier and five at-large bids), the most for any conference in the three seasons since the beach field expanded from eight. USC was automatically placed in the 17-team bracket as the champion of the final Pac-12 tournament. UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Arizona State and Washington were tabbed as at-large entrants.

In 2022 and 2023, the nine-team league had four in the field (USC, UCLA, Stanford and Cal in both years). With five of the eight at-larges in one conference, the remaining eight were limited to three. Cal Poly and Long Beach State got in from the seven-team Big West and LSU from the four-member CCSA. Shut out in the at-large race were Conference-USA (nine teams), the Sun Belt (eight teams), Atlantic Sun (eight teams), West Coast Conference (seven teams), Southland Conference (eight) and Ohio Valley Conference (six teams). …

Four sand Pipers can be seen this weekend at Gulf Shores, two each from Cal Poly and Washington. Piper Ferch and Piper Naess are key starters for Coach Todd Rogers’ Mustangs out of San Luis Obispo. Piper Monk-Heidrich is a grad student who plays on the No. 1 court for the Huskies after transferring from UCLA. She has a freshman teammate named Piper Stephenson. In other name-game trivia, Arizona State has four named Ava on its roster: freshmen Williamson and Haughy, sophomore Lewison-German and redshirt sophomore Kirunchyk. …

OVC-champion Chattanooga picked up a highly serviceable player from its indoor team in 5-foot-10 grad transfer Morgan Romano. After helping the Mocs go 19-14 on the hard court, Romano has recorded an 18-7 record in the sand, playing on the No. 5 court. While competing indoors for Rider in the MAAC from 2019 to 2022, she was the school’s first four-time all-conference performer and was the league’s player of the year during the 2020-21 season and its 2019 rookie of the year.

AVCA All-Americans

UCLA’s Denaburg of UCLA, Xolani Hodel of Stanford, and USC’s  Kraft are now four-time AVCA All-Americans.

The teams were announced Wednesday. Click here for all the information and the first and second All-American teams.



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