After being the top-ranked team for the entire regular season, the Bruins entered the NCAA championship as the No. 2 seed.
But it didn't matter.
UCLA beach volleyball (35-3) upset No. 1 seed USC (32-6) in the NCAA championship final Sunday afternoon, sweeping the Trojans 3-0 to earn the Bruins' second consecutive national title and the school's 117th.
“We had to do it the hard way at the end,” said coach Stein Metzger. “We had a lot of expectations piled on us since the day after we won last year, which was challenging, and it was something we talked about all year. But it’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to deal with it.”
Metzger has coached the program since its inaugural season in 2013, when the team posted losing records for two straight years.
The Bruins improved their winning percentage each year and went on to win their first NCAA championship in 2018 – five years after UCLA played its first match.
UCLA entered the 2019 season as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation and stayed on top for the entire regular season before losing in the Pac-12 championship to USC.
The Bruins opened the year with a 25-game winning streak – the best start in program history – including the first Bruin win at Zuma Beach over then-No.3 Pepperdine on Mar 6.
This year’s senior class – Nicole and Megan McNamara, Sarah Sponcil, Zana Muno and Izzy Carey – will graduate in June as the winningest class in program history.
“This program has been built on (the seniors’) hard work,” Metzger said. “They were here in the beginning when we weren’t having the same kind of success and we had to chase the vision of what this team could be.”
Four seniors earned their 100th career victories, starting with Carey, who will graduate with the most career wins in program history.
But it wasn’t just the seniors who contributed to the Bruins’ success.
Sophomore Lea Monkhouse transferred to UCLA from Hawai’i and joined junior Savvy Simo on court four, running a 22-4 record alongside Simo.
Freshmen Abby Van Winkle and Lindsey Sparks entered the starting lineup for the Bruins – posting 29-5 and 33-2 records, respectively. Both players were named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team.
Van Winkle scored the winning point in the court three match that clinched the 2019 NCAA title for the Bruins. The freshman said the experience taught her how to deal with high-pressure situations.
“Now I’ve been here, and I’ve had the nerves, and I’ve had the anxiety,” Van Winkle said. “Hopefully I can share that with the people coming in. ... I’m definitely going to have to step it up and be a leader (next year).”
UCLA will have just three seniors next year, but will return seven players who experienced two NCAA championship wins. Metzger said a young team can be beneficial.
“We’ll be a lot younger, but there’s an excitement to that as well,” Metzger said. “We’ll get back to a training style that’s less reliant on live play and learning from the seniors, and more reliant upon skill development, and training the new players that are coming in.”
Three incoming freshman will join the Bruins next season to defend back-to-back NCAA championships, filling the shoes of the five graduating seniors.
“I think (the McNamaras and Carey), who have been here on the beach all four years – have done an amazing job laying the foundation for everybody else,” Muno said. “This is going to be a powerhouse of beach volleyball for many years to come.”