Trojans look to win inaugural Pac-12 Championship

first_imgAs the 2016 season winds down, the No. 1-ranked beach volleyball team is living up to its billing as the top team in the land. The Women of Troy (26-2) might also be the nation’s hottest team as well, as they bring a 22-match winning streak with them into postseason play this week at Merle Norman Stadium.With the regular season now complete, head coach Anna Collier and the Women of Troy will turn their attention to the inaugural Pac-12 Conference Beach Volleyball Championships being hosted on campus from Thursday to Sunday.The Pac-12 is one of the premiere beach volleyball conferences in the country and is the first major conference to sponsor beach volleyball as an official sport. There are eight schools that will participate in the tournament — Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington — with four of those teams being nationally ranked (No. 1 USC, No. 4 UCLA, No. 6 Arizona and No. 15 Cal).While being the top ranked team in the nation could bring extra pressure heading into the tournament, Collier thinks her team is excited for the opportunity all at once.“We try to challenge them in practice so when they do get out on the court and are challenged by other teams, hopefully they’ve already experienced that here,” Collier said. “Like this week, we might play UCLA in the finals. They’re good and I think the girls are feeling the USC vs. UCLA rivalry as well, so that’s going to be something they’re very excited about and will want to play well for.”The championships will crown both a pairs winner and a team champion, which will also be awarded the Pac-12’s automatic berth into the first-ever NCAA Championships. The tournament will begin with the first round of the pairs’ championship on Thursday at 1 p.m.In the pairs bracket, juniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes are the No. 1 overall seed, while junior Sophie Bukovec and senior Alexa Strange are the No. 5 seed in the competition. Claes and Hughes have been on a tear this season as USC’s top pair, winning 61 straight matches dating back to last season to account for a perfect 36-0 record overall in 2016. Bukovec and Strange have been steady themselves with a 12-match dual winning streak and a 29-8 overall record this season. Should both pairs advance, USC’s top two flights would meet each other in the semifinals to be held on Friday at 10 a.m.Furthermore, the team competition will begin with top seed USC taking on No. 8 seed Oregon on Friday at 1 p.m. in a double-elimination style bracket. Other seedings in the team competition include No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Arizona, No. 4 Cal and No. 5 Arizona State. Stanford, Washington and Oregon round out the last three seeds.While the competition might not be as stiff from top to bottom, Collier doesn’t think her team will get too far ahead of themselves.“The girls really want to go down in history as the first team to win the conference title, so they really see it as motivation and aren’t overlooking it because this in itself is making history,” Collier said.Strange thinks her team will need to be mentally prepared for this heavy slate of competition as well.“It’s all about being mindful,” Strange said. “It’s important for us to be mindful about the fact that, yes, we want to win the national championship, but before we can win the national championship, we have to win the Pac-12 tournament, and in order to win the Pac-12 tournament, we have to win our first match, so it just goes on and on.”The Women of Troy will begin their quest to be crowned the first-ever Pac-12 Tournament Champions on Friday at 1 p.m.last_img