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No. 1 USC, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Stanford go 2-0 at Death Volley Invitational

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Stanford’s Brooke Rockwell goes all out against FAU/Sean Cripple photo

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — LSU could not have asked for more.

An absolutely perfect Good Friday here, temps in the low 70s without a cloud in the sky. Just like Southern California.

The best field ever for an in-season NCAA beach volleyball tournament.

But the volleyball piece was tough for the home team, as the four squads from the West in the Death Volley Invitational dominated the four teams from the East.

To wit:

No. 1 USC came away with 5-0 victories over No. 4 TCU and No. 17 Florida Atlantic.

No. 2 UCLA beat No. 5 Florida State 4-1 and then left TCU reeling, when it also beat the Horned Frogs 5-0.

No. 3 Stanford beat both FAU and No. 10 LSU 5-0.

No. 6 Cal lost 3-2 to FSU but came back and took it to the hometown Tigers to wrap up the day, winning 4-1, sweeping the four matches it won. 

Perhaps the best-played and most entertaining matches involved three-set losses by TCU’s No. 1 team of Hailey Hamlet and Anehlina Khmi, last week’s AVCA national pair of the week. The lost to USC’s Megan Kraft and Delaynie Maple 21-14, 21-23, 15, and then fell to UCLA’s Lexy Denaburg 24-22, 21-19.

And the TCU pair gets no breather in their first match Saturday, when they open with Stanford’s rock-solid No.1 of Xolani Hodel and Brooke Rockwell.

Saturday’s slate at the LSU Beach Volleyball Courts promises more top college competition.

At 8 a.m. Central, Stanford plays TCU.

Cal vs. FAU is scheduled for 9:15, meaning both of those West Coast teams have early starts for teams from the Pacific time zone.

Stanford gets to head home early, because the Cardinal then play Florida State at 10:30 a.m.

Before the day ends, LSU plays USC, Cal plays TCU, UCLA plays FAU, USC plays FSU and the two-day event wraps up with LSU vs. UCLA.

All matches can be seen on Volleyball World TV.

Stanford has been a program on the upswing. Last season, the Cardinal finished 29-13 in duals and advanced to the NCAA Championships, where they beat Grand Canyon but got swept by TCU.

This year, Stanford is on a roll, 16-2 after Saturday. That includes a victory over USC, two over UCLA and one over TCU. Its only defeats were to UCLA and then-No. 10 Arizona State, both 3-2.

Stanford boasts a lineup from top to bottom that is quick, athletic, and obviously talented.

“On the recruiting landscape, we obviously try to get people who are really dynamic and move well and have good arms and all that stuff, but I think we try to meet the athletes where they are and highlight the things they can do really well,” said Stanford eighth-year coach Andrew Fuller. 

“And we practice in a way that’s like, ‘Here’s the problem, how to you want to solve it?’ ”

There haven’t been too many problems so far this season. Friday, the No. 1 pair of Hodel and Rockwell won their first match against FAU 21-12, 21-19, and then battled to a 21-17, 22-24, 15-11 win over LSU’s Gabi Bailey and Ellie Shank.

At No. 2, Ruby Sorra and Taylor Wilson swept FAU and then beat LSU’s Parker Bracken and Reilly Allred 21-19, 19-21, 15-8. Sorra — a Canadian freshman — and Wilson — a junior from Santa Barbara — are 15-3 and Stanford’s winningest pair.

The No. 3 pair of Chloe Hoffman and Kelly Belardi didn’t lose a set, nor dAshley Vincent and Maya Harvey at No. 4 nor Clara Stowell and Kate Reilly at No. 5.

Stanford’s Clara Stowell digs against FAU/Sean Cripple

Reilly, a senior from Manhattan Beach, noted this year’s Stanford team has an improved culture, a better sense of purpose in practices and has gotten a big boost from a tremendous freshman class. 

“I agree with that heartily,” Fuller said.

Reilly, for one, played at No. 3 at the end of last year, but this year said she is happily at No. 5 where she and Stowell, a freshman, have won 10 matches in a row and are 11-3.

For that matter, Stanford’s roster has an interesting mix of experience. Harvey and Hodel are the other seniors, Wilson is a junior, Belardi and Vincent are sophomores, and Rockwell and Sorra are also freshmen.

Part of the new and improved Stanford team includes players — not coaches — giving the pre-match talks and the addition of longtime pro Billy Allen to the staff. 

“We started asking them to do that (give the talk) this season and, in full candor,” Fuller said with a laugh, “I think they were pretty tired of hearing me. It’s way more meaningful coming from them and we just wanted to make sure that as a group they are leading the charge. We’re just supporting them.”

Allen, 42, has had a long and illustrious pro beach career, even winning AVP Denver Open last summer with Alison Cerutti. Last fall, he served as a volunteer coach at Cal and lives in Berkeley. When Fuller offered him a job, he accepted but didn’t move to Palo Alto. So he takes BART and then a bus for a five-hour commute both ways to to work for the Cardinal. He is strongly considering moving next year, he admitted.

“Billy and I have been really close friends for like 15 years,” said the 6-foot-10 Fuller, 39, who played professionally on the beach from 2007-13. “We never played together, but have been talking about coaching and sport for so long that the foundation and the base was already there. We were already speaking the same language. It’s really fun to have a coaching staff where you have that comfort and trust with each other.”

Also on staff is first-year assistant Jo Kremer, who played at USC when Fuller was an assistant there. For years, Fuller’s wife, former pro Lauren Fendrick, was his volunteer assistant, but when staffs could add another paid coach, she stepped away and Allen came in.

“It was a really great transition with Billy,” Fuller said.

And that commute? “We want to make sure the players know that, too, that level of dedication. That’s gnarly.”

***

Click here for the Stanford recap of its victories over FAU and LSU.

Click here for USC’s recap of its wins over TCU and FAU.

Click here for the UCLA recap of its victories over Florida State and TCU.

And here for Cal’s outcomes against FSU and LSU.

The post No. 1 USC, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Stanford go 2-0 at Death Volley Invitational appeared first on Volleyballmag.com.

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