Only eight teams will be selected for next week’s NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship at Gulf Shores, Ala. Sitting at No. 9 in the AVCA Coaches Poll, Stanford beach volleyball(23-11, 6-5 Pac-12) needed to make a statement at this weekend’s Pac-12 tournament.
And it did.
The fourth-seeded Cardinal started the weekend on Thursday with a 3-2 victory over No. 11 Cal (16-13, 5-5 Pac-12), another team on the bubble. Their fortune shifted the next day, when they were shut out 3-0 by No. 1 USC (26-2, 0-0 Pac-12). But the Cardinal’s weekend did not end there. A 3-1 win over sixth-seeded Arizona State (10-12, 3-6 Pac-12) in the bottom half of a double-elimination bracket set up a rematch with the Golden Bears to start Saturday.
The team’s fourth pair of freshman Emmy Sharp and senior Amelia Smith gave the Cardinal the first point on Saturday with a 21-15, 21-15 win.
Freshman Maya Harvey and Junior Charlie Ekstrom took the second point in a three-set thriller, with each set going into overtime. After losing the first set 22-20 and staring down match point in the second. Ekstrom landed a block and back-to-back aces that fell off the top of the net to steal the set with a 22-20 score of their own. The lineup’s second duo would take the third set 18-16 and put Stanford on the brink of continuing its Contender’s Bracket run.
Sophomore Maddi Kriz and freshman Kate Reilly clinched the dual with a quick 21-19, 21-12 win, bringing Stanford’s record against the Golden Bears to 4-2 on the season. Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Cal set up another rematch, this time against USC, with the winner advancing to face No. 2 UCLA (27-3, 11-0 Pac-12) in the conference championship.
Ekstrom and Harvey could not replicate their success against the Trojans. The duo of graduate Julia Scoles and senior Sammy Slater effectively navigated the ball around Ekstrom’s blocking at the net to win the No. 2 match of the dual for USC 21-13, 21-19. The duos of Kriz and Reilly in the No. 3 spot, and Smith and Sharp right below them, also fell in straight sets to spoil a dark-horse run to the conference title.
The NCAA selection committee now holds Stanford’s hopes for a national championship in its hands. Even if the Cardinal are not selected, head coach Andrew Fuller can nevertheless call this season a success. The No. 9 ranking on the AVCA Coaches Poll and the season’s 23 wins are both the highest in program history. Fuller, and the rest of the team, will find out their fate during Sunday’s selection show at 4 p.m. P.T.