Beach volleyball celebrates historic season

No. 3 seed Stanford beach volleyball fell in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship to No. 11 seed LSU last weekend, ending the winningest season in program history. During the game, underdog LSU clinched three of the five duels in a close, three-set match. This brought the Cardinal to an unexpected defeat in the same round of competition they lost in last year. 

“It sucked, for lack of a better word,” said senior and team captain Kate Reilly ’24. “I really did feel very confident.” 

Reilly and frosh Clara Stowell ’27 won the first point of the match with a decisive 21-16, 21-16 two-set victory, but watched as the four remaining courts turned to tense, three-set battles. 

“It’s just a high anxiety, high pressure moment and you’re just watching it all unfold and hoping for the best,” Reilly said. “Everyone was battling.” 

The Cardinal won the next point of the match on court one, after senior Xolani Hodel ’24 and frosh Brooke Rockwell ’27 won their duel 12-21, 22-20, 15-8. However, after sophomore Kelly Belardi ’26 and frosh Chloe Hoffman ’27 lost their battle on court three and sophomore Ashley Vincent ‘26 and senior Maya Harvey ’24 fell on court five, all eyes landed on the last duel. 

“A lot of people on the team still didn’t have any doubt that we were going to lose,” Vincent said.

Yet, after stretching out a normally 15-point third set to a tight 20-20 score, Stanford junior Taylor Wilson ’25 and freshman Ruby Sorra’s ’27 ultimately lost the final duel with a final score of 18-21, 22-20, 24-22. 

“When the final point happened and we did lose it was just kind of surreal,” Vincent said. “People were very certain that we were going to win.”

In spite of an unexpected end to the season, the Cardinal closed an unprecedented run of record-high individual and program wins. The 32-6 record brings the team to its fourth consecutive-year of setting new program bests. 

“When I was a freshman we weren’t even ranked, or maybe we were but we were scraping the bottom,” Reilly said. Now this year, entering the NCAA tournament, the team was ranked third.

“I remember in the first week or practice walking with my coach and being like, ‘whoa, we have a really good group this year,’” Reilly said. 

The Cardinal also beat beach volleyball juggernaut USC for the first time ever earlier this season. USC, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championships this year, ended up winning the championship with a 3-0 victory over No. 2 UCLA. 

“We went into it not just hoping we would upset teams like USC and UCLA but knowing that we could,” Reilly said. 

Despite the similar ending, stark parallels can be seen from last season’s appearance at the NCAA Beach Volleyball National Championships, where the Cardinal – then No. 9 – earned their first-ever win at an NCAA tournament. 

“Even though we ended the same way, it was a much different feeling,” Vincent said. “Expectations were definitely a lot higher, so it’s harder to get over but it was a lot more special to go through.” 

This LSU defeat brings an end to the collegiate beach volleyball careers of eight graduating seniors. 

“Each one of them has led the team in their own way this year and created a really special and very loving environment for everybody,” Vincent said of the team’s seniors. 

The team holds no shortage of talent- as evidenced by the number of freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup. Moreover, the seniors are ready to see what next year’s sands hold for the team. 

“I’m expecting the records to be broken, because I know they can do it,” Reilly said. “I’m just really excited to now be their family and watch them play.”

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