USC's Claes, Hughes win inaugural Pac-12 Beach Volleyball pairs crown
LOS ANGELES - In a competitive final between the event's top two seeds, USC's No. 1 duo of Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes defeated ARIZONA's No. 2 team of Madison Witt and McKenna Witt to capture the first-ever Pac-12 Beach Volleyball Pairs Championship on Friday.
Spurred on by their home fans at Merle Norman Stadium, Claes and Hughes opened the morning with a semifinal sweep past ARIZONA STATE's Bianca Arellano and Whitney Follette (21-13, 21-15).
In the other semifinal, the Wildcats' Witt twins won in straight sets over UCLA twins Megan McNamara and Nicole McNamara (21-17, 21-15), setting up a rematch of last year's Pac-12 Invitational pairs final.
The deciding match did not disappoint as neither pair led by more than three points in either of the two sets, highlighted by a dozen ties in Set 1, but Claes and Hughes ultimately kept their perfect season intact with a 22-20, 22-20 triumph to claim the league's inaugural pairs title.
USC's top duo is now 40-0 with just one dropped set in all competitions so far in 2016 and has won 65 consecutive matches.
After the crowning of the Pairs champions, the event shifted to the Team Bracket with play beginning on Friday afternoon and ultimately culminating with the championship match on Sunday at 4 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks.
Nationally ranked No. 1 USC (27-2) opened the Team Bracket with a dominant 5-0 win over eighth seeded OREGON (2-9), the Trojans' 23rd consecutive victory and 17th sweep of an opponent this season. Fourth seeded and No. 15 ranked CALIFORNIA (17-9) posted a thrilling come-from-behind victory against No. 5 seed ARIZONA STATE (11-12), a contest in which all five matches went three sets. After falling behind 2-0 in the dual, the Golden Bears reeled off three straight victories with the No. 1 pair of Sarah Cole and Mia Merino providing the deciding point.
OREGON and ASU will open Saturday play in the Contender's Bracket at 9 a.m. PT, while USC and CALIFORNIA will meet in the Winner's Bracket at 1 p.m. PT.
Friday evening's Team Bracket matches also held true to seed as third seeded and No. 6 nationally ranked ARIZONA (16-3), and second seeded and No. 4 UCLA (18-4) both cruised to 4-1 victories. The Wildcats got two-set sweeps at the Nos. 1, 4 and 5 positions en route to a victory over sixth seeded STANFORD (5-11) and their sixth straight dual match triumph. The Bruins' depth proved too much for seventh seeded WASHINGTON (3-5) with straight-sets wins at Nos. 3, 4 and 5 for their 11th win in a row.
STANFORD and WASHINGTON move into Saturday's second Contender's Bracket contest at 11 a.m. PT, while ARIZONA and UCLA will meet for the second time this season in a Winner's Bracket dual at 3 p.m. PT.