No. 1 Trojans Open Title Defense Against Bruins and Waves|
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March 1, 2017
LOS ANGELES -- The No. 1-ranked two-time defending national champion USC beach volleyball team (0-0) begins defense of its titles this weekend at the Pepperdine Kick-Off when the Women of Troy head to Malibu for a pair of top-5 duals against No. 3-ranked crosstown rival UCLA (0-0) and No. 4-ranked tournament host Pepperdine (0-0) on the sands of Zuma Beach on Saturday, March 4. The Trojans and the Bruins will renew their sand rivalry for the sixth time at 11:15 a.m. PT. USC then meets the Waves for a dual at 12:30 p.m. Both dual matches will be streamed live by FloVolleyball.com.
USC ended last season on a school-record 30-match winning streak to tie the 12th longest among program records from USC's 21 varsity sports. Previously, USC won 29 straight before suffering a loss to Pepperdine at Zuma Beach last spring and has won 62 of its last 64 contests dating to the beginning of 2015. Speaking of streaks, seniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes were unbeaten last season (48-0) and have won 73 consecutive matches. USC returns the bulk of its NCAA-title squad with starting seniors Sophie Bukovec, Nicolette Martin, and Allie Wheeler. Other returning starters include juniors Jo Kremer and Jenna Belton and sophomore Abril Bustamante. Sixth-year head coach Anna Collier is the only collegiate head coach with more than 100 wins and enters the season with a 108-17 record.
LAST TIME OUT: The Women of Troy won the first-ever NCAA championship in Gulf Shores, Ala., in May 2016. USC became the first program to win back-to-back national titles in the sport and also won the inaugural Pac-12 Championship. Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes completed their undefeated season (48-0) and provided the clinching point in USC's 3-0 win over Florida State in the title match. In the process, Claes and Hughes ran their winning streak to 73 straight matches and earned AVCA All-America honors. The incredible duo dropped just one set of play in 2016 and claimed the first-ever Pac-12 Pairs Championship. Together, they were named the Pac-12 Pair of the Year and Claes had the added distinction of being named the first-ever Pac-12 Player of the Year. USC graduated All-American Alexa Strange and also said farewell to Zoe Nightingale, who was with the program for one season. Head coach Anna Collier crossed the 100-win plateau when the Trojans won the Pac-12 title, and ended the season with her squad on a 30-match winning streak, which put her at 108-17 all-time.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Trojans will meet crosstown rival UCLA to open the season for the first time in program history. USC is 5-0 in all-time meetings against the Bruins and had earned four 5-0 sweeps prior to the last meeting. The Trojans needed every point in a 3-2 win over UCLA to knock the Bruins out in the semifinals of the Pac-12 championships. The two teams will meet at Zuma Beach for the second time. They also played there last season (March 6). Pepperdine is the only team to hold a winning record against USC. The Waves are 8-7 in 15 previous all-time meetings, but USC has won the last three including a 3-0 win in the second round of the NCAA championship (May 6, 2016). The Women of Troy suffered one of their two losses last season on opening day, and it was against Pepperdine, on the sands at Zuma Beach under inclement wind conditions.
CROSSTOWN CUP POINTS: Points are on the line when the Trojans and Bruins take the sand on Saturday. The two schools tally points in all head-to-head competitions to determine a winner. USC has won 10 of the 15 years that the competition has taken place including a 120-70 victory in 2015-16.
HOME, SWEET, HOME: The Women of Troy are 34-4 at Merle Norman Stadium since the venue's opening in 2013. The Trojans won 19 straight home matches between 2014 and 2016; and went 10-0 in 2015 and 8-0 in 2014 on MNS sand. USC currently owns an eight-match winning streak at the stadium. Only three teams have ever come to Merle Norman Stadium and beaten the Trojans: Florida State (twice), Long Beach State, and Pepperdine.
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS: On Saturday, April 23, 2016, USC defeated Hawai'i, 3-0, to make head coach Anna Collier the first collegiate beach volleyball coach to reach the 100 career victories mark. She is currently 108-17 all-time.
SENIOR CITIZENS: The Trojans' seniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes are the winningest pair in program history. The duo has won 92 matches (92-3) together over the course of a three-year relationship. Seniors Nicolette Martin and Allie Wheeler formed the second-most successful duo in school history from 2014-16 as they amassed 91 victories (91-14) through the end of the NCAA championship run. Claes and Hughes own the USC single-season record for wins with a 48-0 mark achieved in 2016.
LET'S GO STREAKING: USC set a new program record to close the 2016 season as winners of 30 consecutive matches. The streak is alive to begin the 2017 campaign and is just one more than the previous record of 29 straight set between the undefeated 28-0 record from the 2015 squad to the first match of 2016. Seniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes have won 73 straight matches dating back to April 2, 2015. During that streak, the two Trojans have lost just six sets (only one in 2016). The dynamic duo won 25 straight matches to close the 2015 season as AVCA National Pairs Champions and finished with a final mark of 44-3. They then went undefeated in 2016 with a 48-0 record.
HAT TRICK: The Women of Troy have won each of the last three AVCA pairs' national championships. Kirby Burnham and Stevi Robinson claimed the title in 2013. Burnham then won again with Sara Hughes in 2014. Following Burnham's graduation, Hughes teamed with Kelly Claes to win the 2015 crown. With the NCAA's sponsorship of beach volleyball as its 90th championship sport, the organization decided to hold a team championship and not a pairs' tournament. This spring, the USAV will sponsor a Collegiate Beach Pairs National Championship at Manhattan Beach the weekend of May 11-13 where Claes and Hughes will have a chance to defend their 2015 title.
NCAA START: 2016 marked the first year that the NCAA officially sponsored beach volleyball as a championship sport. It became the NCAA's 90th championship and was contested in Gulf Shores, Ala., the site of the four AVCA national championships from 2012-15. In addition, the Pac-12, with eight teams, sponsored the first-ever conference championship the weekend of April 28-May 1. The Pac-12 Championships produced both a team winner and a pairs' winner. USC's Merle Norman Stadium hosted the first-ever Pac-12 Beach Volleyball Championship. The 2017 Pac-12 Championships will be hosted by Arizona in Tucson, Ariz.
POLL POSITION: USC opened the season ranked No. 1 in both the AVCA Coaches Top 15 and the DiG Magazine Top 20 media poll. The Women of Troy seized the top spot in both polls on March 23, 2015, following a victory over then No. 1-ranked Hawai'i on the road and held the ranking for the rest of 2015. USC has been ranked No. 1 in 13 AVCA polls, which ties for the most all-time with Pepperdine. The Trojans, the Waves, and the Wahine are the only three teams ever to hold the top spot in the poll. USC is 53-3 all-time when ranked No. 1. The Trojans received their first-ever No. 1 ranking in 2014 and maintained the position for much of the season, before the they fell to eventual AVCA champion Pepperdine in the national semifinals. In 2013, USC started the season ranked third and finished in fourth.
TRACK THE TROJANS: Fans of the Women of Troy can follow @USCBeach on Twitter for score updates during home matches and select road matches. The Trojans are also active on Instagram, Facebook, Periscope, and Snapchat. Search @USCBeach and follow us today!