Sara Hughes will graduate from USC with a business degree later this month and it’s fair to say she has a job all lined up.
The Costa Mesa resident will compete for her fourth straight team title at the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship, Friday through Sunday in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Hughes, who teams with fellow senior Kelly Claes, is also slated to take part in the USA Volleyball Collegiate Beach Championships, May 11-13, at the Hermosa Beach Pier.
After that, she figures to pursue paychecks on the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals Tour that includes seven events to follow the season-opening Huntington Beach Open this weekend.
Hughes and Claes enter their final tournament for USC hoping to help the Women of Troy earn their second straight NCAA team title. Hughes and Claes also helped USC win American Volleyball Coaches’ Assn. national championships in 2014 and 2015, before it became an NCAA-sanctioned sport.
Hughes teamed with Claes to claim the AVCA national pairs title in 2015, and combined with Newport Harbor High product Kirby Burnham to win the same title in 2014. There have been no national pairs championships the last two years.
Hughes and Claes won their second straight Pac-12 Conference pairs crown in April and were named the Pac-12 Pair of the Year for the second straight season. They take a 136-4 career record into Alabama, including a 44-1 mark this season. Their 103-match winning streak was halted on April 8, when they were upset by a duo from Saint Mary’s.
USC (34-1) is the No. 1 seed in the eight-team championship event this weekend, with its only loss coming to No. 2-seeded UCLA (29-4) in the Pac-12 postseason tournament in which USC wound up topping UCLA in the final. The loss to the Bruins halted USC’s 62-match winning streak.
USC faces No. 8-seeded South Carolina (23-9) in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Hughes, a Mater Dei High product, teamed with Claes to finish second in AVP events last season in San Francisco and New York. The duo earned third-place AVP finishes in 2015 in New York and Manhattan Beach, though NCAA eligibility restrictions forced them to decline to accept prize money beyond their expenses.
Also competing in Gulf Shores will be No. 3-seeded Pepperdine (29-3), No. 4 Florida State (27-7), No. 5 Hawaii (25-5), No. 6 Long Beach State (25-8) and No. 7 LSU (26-6).
The USC roster also includes 6-foot-1 freshman Cammie Dorn from Laguna Beach High. Dorn, the daughter of former Estancia High track and field and football standout Eric Dorn, is a reserve who won six of her seven matches this season, playing with three different partners.
Elise Zappia, a Huntington Beach resident who played at Mater Dei, has played at No. 3 doubles for UCLA, for which local products Remy Wilson (Newport Harbor) and Jasmine Hogan (Golden West College) also compete.
Zappia and partner Torrey Van Winden won in the No. 3 spot against USC in the Bruins’ upset of their cross-town rival.
Wilson and Hogan, both reserves for the Bruins, teamed to go 5-0 at the Monterey Invitational early in the season.
Long Beach State includes 5-9 senior Kobi Pekich, a Huntington Beach resident who played at Calvary Chapel High and Irvine Valley Community College. Pekich and partner Sasha Karelov are 22-12 this season. They were the 49ers’ No. 2 tandem in the Big West Conference tournament, in which Long Beach finished second to Hawaii.
Gianna Guinasso, a junior out of Huntington Beach High, is a reserve for Hawaii.
Oilers on NCAA stage
Huntington Beach High had a strong presence at the NCAA men’s volleyball championship, which held its semifinals on Thursday.
Former Oilers TJ DeFalco, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and National Player of the Year, as well as Josh Tuaniga, named the top setter in the nation by Off the Block, competed for Long Beach State.
The No. 2-seeded 49ers, coached by former Marina High and Orange Coast College standout Alan Knipe, the National Coach of the Year, were upset by No. 3-seeded BYU, 25-20, 25-28, 25-23, on Thursday at Ohio State. Long Beach finished 27-4.
BYU (26-4) was led by Huntington Beach High alumnus Brenden Sander on Thursday. The 6-4 junior outside hitter had a match-high 15 kills and hit .619 to lead the Cougars into Saturday’s title match.
DeFalco, a 6-4 sophomore named the top outside hitter in the nation by Off the Block, had 12 kills and three aces, while Tuaniga, another sophomore, had 26 assists.
The Long Beach State roster also included former Oilers Matt Butler, Zach Gates and Andrew TenBrink, as well as OCC product Ryan Manoogian.
The USA Volleyball Collegiate Beach Championships feature 12 women’s teams and 24 men’s duos.
Peckich, playing with Long Beach State teammate Rachel Nieto, and Zappia, playing with fellow Bruin Madi Yeomans, are in the women’s field for the event that will also serve as Team USA trials for the collegiate national team.
The men’s field includes UC Irvine tandems of Scott Stadick and Grand Friedman, as well as Dillon Hoffman and Reid Dominguez.
Michael Saeta, a setter who recently completed his UCI career by earning second-team All-American honors, will team with USC standout Lucas Yoder in the event.
Butler will pair with fellow 49er Louis Richard at Hermosa.