The Trojans defeat two-time defending champion Bruins to win the NCAA Championship.
The USC Trojans defeated the UCLA Bruins in the 2021 Beach Volleyball National Championship on Sunday, May 9. Since 2016, USC and UCLA Beach Volleyball have both been NCAA Championship title holders, and USC decided 2021 was their year. The return to the Alabama Gulf Shores felt even sweeter for the returning fifth year players who can remember losing to UCLA in the 2019 Championship.
After winning back-to-back titles, the second-seeded team hadn’t won the National Championship since 2017. UCLA was named the 2018 National Champion, then won again in 2019, beating USC to do so. When No. 1 UCLA beat USC in the Pac-12 tournament back in March, senior Sammy Slater recalled winning the Pac-12 title over UCLA in 2019 only to lose the NCAA title. These moments of grit epitomize this USC team. Their unending determination is what won them their third NCAA Championship.
After USC’s pairing of Haley Hallgren (Sr.) and Hailey Harward (Gr.) and UCLA’s pairing of Rileigh Powers (Fr.) and Jaden Whitmarsh (R-Fr.) won their matches 2-0, the long-standing rivals were at a 1–1 tie heading into the final three matches of the championship games. USC’s pairing of Tina Graudina (Jr.) and Megan Kraft (Fr.) had a 2–0 victory over UCLA’s pairing of Savvy Simo (Gr.) and Lexy Denaburg (Fr.) giving the Trojans an additional point. To close it out, USC’s pairing of Julia Scoles (Gr.) and Slater took down UCLA’s pairing of Lea Monkhouse (Jr.) and Devon Newberry (Fr.) with an ace served by Slater—talk about a grand finale for Slater’s senior season.
This is head coach Dain Blanton’s first national championship since taking over in 2019 from Anna Collier, who won two titles with the Trojans. Blanton served as a volunteer assistant coach for the Trojans from 2015–2018, and knew the team could continue to reach new heights when he took the helm. His history with the team gave him a personal insight into what they are capable of even as they went up against the No. 1 ranked team.
Despite being two-time defending champions, the Bruins had to work hard to get through to the finals after losing to Loyola Marymount in the second round. They did make it by working their way through the contenders bracket into the Sunday morning semifinals, and later in the evening played in the championship for their sixth match of the weekend. USC walked into the championship with only three games under their belt and a lot of excited players ready to take on the team that had taken the title from them the past two NCAA Championship Tournaments.
The Bruins will still have an intimidating aura heading into the next few years, with 13 out of the 17 players on their roster being freshmen and sophomores. The young players may not have won this year, but it is only imaginable that in the next few they will be back and vying for the title. Until then, the USC Women of Troy will enjoy their well-earned 2021 NCAA Championship win.