This past weekend, Stanford beach volleyball (5-12, 2-4 Pac-12) participated in the first-ever Pac-12 Beach Volleyball Championships. The team unfortunately did not challenge for the title but was able to gain valuable experience across its young lineup.
The event began on Thursday with the pairs tournament, which featured the No. 1 and No. 2 duos from each school.
Ninth-seeded freshmen Hayley Hodson and Payton Chang opened things up for the Cardinal with a close 2-1 loss to the eighth-seeded Arizona pair, seniors Jianna Bonomi and Katarina Schulz. Despite the final scoreline, the Stanford freshmen generally kept pace with their more experienced opponents, winning the first set and fighting hard in the others.
A bit later in the day, No. 14 pair sophomore Catherine Raquel and redshirt sophomore Ivana Vanjak fell 2-0 to No. 3 Megan and Nicole McNamara from UCLA. The twin partners were the top pair for the No. 4 Bruins this season and were amongst the best duos in the conference.
On Friday morning, the California sun shone down once again onto the newly groomed sand courts of USC’s campus as the No. 6 Cardinal took on No. 3 Arizona in their first team match of the tournament. The result came out 4-1 in Arizona’s favor, with Stanford’s one point being earned by redshirt sophomore Merete Lutz and freshman Halland McKenna in an impressive 2-0 victory at the No. 3 spot.
The Cardinal were not overly discouraged by this outcome, however. “I felt like we competed hard, and Arizona is a great team that has a good shot to make the NCAA Championships,” stated head coach Denise Corlett after the event (the Wildcats would subsequently be selected in an announcement on Sunday).
With this attitude, Stanford came back on Saturday and played No. 7 Washington in the consolation bracket.
The No. 4 Stanford duo of freshmen Courtney Bowen and Jennifer DiSanto, helped start off the day on a high note with a 2-1 win against the No. 4 Husky pair. Though the Cardinal lost in three sets at the No. 5 spot, Lutz and McKenna gave the team a 2-1 overall lead when they won 2-0 at the No. 3 slot.
Sadly, Stanford couldn’t find the last point it needed to advance, as the No. 2 combo of Vanjak and Raquel and the No. 1 pair of Hodson and Chang both lost in straight sets.
“Today was a tough loss to end the season,” said Corlett. “Washington is very strong in their top two pairs and I thought our teams fought hard to the end.”
These were the final matches of the season for the Cardinal, as No. 1 USC took home the first-ever Pac 12 Beach Volleyball title, finishing the tournament with an unbeaten record.
Stanford may not have been able to end its season on a particularly high note, but it saw some great improvements that it stands to benefit from in the future.
The 15-person team is currently composed of seven freshmen, all of whom have certainly learned from the season, allowing them to work on weaknesses in the offseason before next year. The team will also be recruiting more “beach-only kids,” according to Corlett, as 12 of the team’s 15 still compete indoors in the fall.
Corlett hopes that a season on the sand will give these players some valuable takeaways that they will take back to the indoors courts under head coach John Dunning.
“I think [playing outdoors] gives the [indoor players] an awareness of being on the court where instead of just being a blocker you have to see the court and read the person hitting … They’re exposed a little more, so it’s different in terms of there [being] just two of them.”
Three Pac-12 teams (USC, UCLA and Arizona) will finish their seasons at the inaugural eight-team National Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship this weekend this weekend in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Contact Laura Sussman at laura111 ‘at’ stanford.edu.