Claes-Hughes and Belton-Russ Claim Pac-12 Invitational Pairs Crowns|
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April 19, 2015
SANTA MONICA, Calif. - USC women's sand volleyball sophomores Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes won the Pac-12 Invitational Pairs gold-bracket title and the Trojans' pair of freshman Jenna Belton and senior Bria Russ claimed the championship in the silver bracket on Sunday, April 19, at the Annenberg Community Beach House.
The conclusion of the USC-hosted tournament signals the official end to the regular season. The Women of Troy will now await selection and seeding for the 2015 AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship set for May 1-3 in Gulf Shores, Ala. The Trojans have advanced to each of the last two national semifinal matches as a team and have produced each of the last two pairs champions: Hughes and Kirby Burnham (2014), Burnham and Stevi Robinson (2013).
Claes and Hughes won their 17th straight and improved to 36-3 on the season with a 15-0 mark in tournament matches. The duo received a first-round bye in the gold bracket and faced UCLA's team of Madie Smith and Elise Zappia in the quarterfinals. Claes-Hughes picked up a quick 21-11, 21-11 victory over the Bruins to advance into the semis.
It was an all-USC affair in one gold semifinal. Claes and Hughes didn't bat an eye as they topped seniors Eve Ettinger and Meg Norton, 21-17, 21-12, to grab the first spot in the title match. There, the two met Arizona's top duo of twin sisters Madison and McKenna Witt. It took three sets, but the Trojans prevailed, 21-15, 19-21, 15-11.
In the silver bracket, Belton and Russ took out higher-seeded pairs three times to claim their first tournament title together. The USC tandem improved to 27-4 on the year and became the fifth Trojan pair to reach the 25-win plateau. In their quarterfinal, sixth-seeded Belton-Russ dominated the third-seeded Arizona State team of Sydney Palmer and McKenzie Willey, 21-12, 21-12. The two Trojans then beat Arizona's second-seeded team of Taylor Arizobal and Taylor Lane, 21-19, 21-15. The silver final was USC versus USC and pitted Belton and Russ against sophomores Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler. In a one-sided finish, Belton and Russ completed a 21-16, 21-11 win over their teammates for the title.
USC's pair of sophomore Sophie Bukovec and junior Alexa Strange advanced to the gold semifinals with a pair of wins. The first was a 21-18, 21-12 victory over Arizona's Emily Kiser and Rachel Rhoades. The second was a 21-14, 21-11 win over ASU's Bianca Arellano and Macey Gardner. The two came up against the Witt sisters in their semifinal and dropped a tough 21-18, 22-20 decision to the eventual runner-up pair.
Ettinger and Norton also won two matches in the gold bracket before they fell to Claes and Hughes. The two Trojans beat Cal's team of Sarah Cole and Emily Lunt, 21-12, 21-18, in the first round, and then walked off with a 21-13, 21-13 win over UCLA's top team of Zoe Nightingale and Kamila Tan in the quarterfinals.
Though Martin and Wheeler dropped their match to Belton and Russ, the two USC sophomores earned two wins in the silver bracket. They beat UCLA's team of Lexi Jasper-Baylin and Ivey Schmitt, 21-8, 21-9, in the quarterfinals and then cruised past Cal's Mackenzie Feldman and Sammy Furlan, 21-9, 21-14, in their semifinal match.
For more information on the USC sand volleyball team and a complete schedule, please visit USCTrojans.com and follow @USCSandVBall on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
2015 PAC-12 PAIRS INVITATIONAL
GOLD FIRST ROUND
SILVER FIRST ROUND