HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. – In just the third year of the USA Volleyball Collegiate Beach Championships, the Louisiana State duo of Claire Coppola and Kristen Nuss are already making quite the name for themselves.
After finishing ninth in the inaugural tournament, Coppola and Nuss won in 2018 and then defended their title on Saturday. The Collegiate Beach Championships is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
“This year was a lot more pressure,” Coppola said. “To come back and be the reigning champs and kind of fulfill that role that we had. Also, different competitions, we weren’t playing the same teams, we were playing completely different teams, and it was definitely a different vibe throughout the whole tournament that we had.”
Coppola and Nuss are coming off a third-place finish with LSU at last week’s NCAA championships, which features a team format. Although they were competing individually this weekend, they were motivated to show well for their school.
“We know every time coming out here we’re still representing LSU, and that means a lot to us,” Nuss said. “So we just want to go put a good foot forward for LSU, and the university, and the team, and the coaches.”
They did just that.
What a win for @LSUBeachVB's @kristennuss97 & @clairecoppola1 who defended their GOLD medal at #BeachChamps19!👏👏 pic.twitter.com/6WO48tDPIV— Team USA (@TeamUSA) May 12, 2019
In the semifinals, the decorated pair made quick work of Florida State’s Madison Fitzpatrick and Alaina Chacon in straight sets, winning 21-18, 21-17. That set up a championship game against the top-seeded team from Pepperdine, Brook Bauer and Deahna Kraft.
With the crowd cheering mostly for hometown Pepperdine, the women’s final kicked off with a closely contested first set. However, the LSU veterans showed their experience with timely digs and crucial blocks to win 21-18.
Bauer and Kraft jumped out to a slight advantage to start the second set, at one point taking an 11-8 lead. But the Tigers rallied and forced a tiebreaker through an array of Nuss roll shots and Coppola digs.
With the LSU team ready to serve for match point at 20-19, the Pepperdine squad called a time out. It proved vital, as they were able to tie it up and eventually win the set 23-21. It was the first set that Coppola and Nuss dropped at this year’s tournament and, most importantly, it forced a deciding third set.
Bauer and Kraft maintained the momentum, at one point taking a 10-9 lead, but the urgency showed by LSU proved to be the difference in the end. Again, as LSU was about to serve for match point at 14-12, Pepperdine took a timeout. This time the stoppage proved to be to no avail, as the match concluded with Bauer missing a short volley to give the LSU duo back-to-back titles.
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The men’s final featured the defending champions as well, but this time they were on different teams. Ultimately Adam Wienckowski and new partner Tim Brewster defeated Jon Justice and Bryce Estes 21-17, 15-21, 23-21.
Wienckowski and Justice won the men’s title last year while representing Florida State. This year, Wienckowski is competing for Florida Atlantic, while partner Brewster is from UCLA. Justice remains at Florida State, while Estes competes for Nicholls.
The men are allowed to compete together even without representing the same college because the men’s beach volleyball still has not been sanctioned by the NCAA, while women’s beach volleyball has officially been part of the NCAA official list since 2015.
Wienckowski said he and Brewster decided to team up because they will compete together at the under-21 world championships.
“So this would be great preparation for us,” he said.
Early on, Brewster and Wienckowski dissected their opponents’ weak spots, capitalizing on unforced errors from Estes and Justice. Seven missed serves by Estes proved to be the difference in the first set as the Wienckowski-Brewster tandem won 21-17.
However, as the match progressed, Estes seemed to let the game come to him and find his touch on his serves, limiting the number of miscues and scoring multiple aces to win the second set 21-15 and force a third and final set.
In a hotly contested third set, Estes took control of the net game as he punished his opponents with a multitude of spikes and blocks to help take an early lead. After going down four points early, Wienckowski and Brewer took a timeout.
“We just wanted to stop the momentum and come up with things we could work out, which was focusing on our side of the net,” said Brewster, a 2018 Youth Olympian for Team USA. “We were focusing too much on what they were doing and not enough on how we were.”
Through match points going back and forth, Wienckowski and Brewster managed to edge out their opponents with a 23-21 win in the last set to give Wienckowski back-to-back titles and Brewster his first.
Loyola Marymount’s Emma Doud and Savannah Slattery took third place in the women’s competition, while Zachary Meyer and Jordan Hoppe of Concordia University Irvine took third on the men’s side.
Sam Yip is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.