UCLA Invitational meets juniors, the coolest of opportunities

UCLA Invitational meets juniors, the coolest of opportunities

Six of the top-10 NCAA beach volleyball teams in the country will be descending upon Manhattan Beach this weekend, including No. 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 in UCLA, USC, TCU, LMU, and LSU. Then there will be Hawai'i and Florida International, both of which are also in the top 15.

It's a simple way of saying: There is no better NCAA beach volleyball event in the country than the UCLA Invitational, formerly known as East Meets West, throughout the entire season.

And the next generation of collegiate, and potentially professional, players will be there to see it. To see what the next level looks like. To see what jerseys they may be putting on in the not too distant future. To see if they do, indeed, have what it takes to make the jump from high school to college and maybe even professional. 

Right alongside all of those elite NCAA beach volleyball teams at the Manhattan Beach Pier will be the AVPJuniors April Open, a 1-Star event with four different divisions, from 18U all the way to the 12s.

"That's a really cool opportunity," said Toni Rodriguez, a former LSU Tiger whose first experience in California was at UCLA's annual East Meets West competition, and who is now playing professionally. "It allows them to get a feel for what college volleyball is all about. California in general is a really cool atmosphere since that's where beach volleyball started. Being able to play next to college players is super encouraging."

At the moment, the top seeds of the Juniors April Open who will be playing next to those college players are Jenna Colligan and Macey Butler, Chloe Hooker and Bailey Showalter, and Finley Rollins and Kelly McCloskey in the 18U Division.

In the 16U Division, Carly Hixson and Adelina Okazaki, Stacy Reeves and Giselle Gallegos, and Simone Roslon and Katherine Morley are the leaders. Leading the 14U is Sydney Toumajian and Amanda Dellenbach, Zoe Znider and Emma Champagne, and Zoey Gealon and Kalia Hannemann. And at the top of the 12U division are Kenzie Quesada and Lynn Choe, Tegan Smith and Margaux LeSage and Quinn Metzger, daughter of UCLA coach Stein Metzger, who is hosting the East Meets West NCAA event, and Sydney Holmes.

"It gives you the feeling of what it's going to be like to play in college," Rodriguez said. "It's a good environment – very structured, intense, you can really feel what it’s going to be like. And having the college coaches there is stressful in a good way. It’s a fun place to be, a fun place to compete."

But Manhattan Beach, packed as it may be this weekend, is far from the only place to compete. There are 1-Stars from as far as Dallas, Texas, at MadSand Volleyball, to Richland, Washington, at Sandstorm Beach Volleyball, up to Eugene, Oregon, at Oregon Sand Volleyball Club.

The 1-Star event at Highland Arena, in Aberdeen, New Jersey, is led by Sarah Wilcock and Kate Stoughton, Ava Goryl and Camryn Ehlers, and Chloe Wiedman and Caitlin Cabrales. The top seeds in the 16U division are Alexa Lubach and Genevieve Millett, Naomi Lygas and Indira Ramirez.

In Tennessee, there are a pair of events, hosted by Vollis in Hermitage and Hyden Beach in Spring Hill. A little further down south, Sandstorm Beach Volleyball Club, in Vero Beach, Florida, is hosting a 1-Star as well.

The CBVA, dormant for this year thus far, is making its debut this weekend, in Santa Cruz, California. Also in Santa Cruz is Los Gatos Beach Volleyball Club, which is putting on its AVP Spring Fling Qualifier.

Across the coast, in Dulles, Virginia, Grit Volleyball is hosting a 16s tournament, led in the seeding by Mae Henning and Laurel Brade, Hailey Huff and Adeline Pitcock, and Caroline Towle and Grace Bianchi.

Off the sand and on the grass will be the annual Carolina Chaos Charlotte Opener, led, of course, by veteran Marc Fornaciari and Liam Maxwell. The top seed in the women's open is Kelly Wood and Cadie Koppenhaver. Up north a bit, in Greenville, South Carolina, home of the 2021 AVPAmerica Grass Nationals, G-Vega$ Volleyball is hosting a full grass event, with open triples to co-ed fours.

~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew