A historic season on the sand: Beach volleyball loses NCAA championship opener in season finale

May 4, 2022, 10:47 p.m.

To wrap up a record-setting season, No. 8 Stanford beach volleyball (24-12, 10-3 Pac-12) traveled down to Alabama’s Gulf Shores for just its second NCAA championship appearance in program history. Stanford faced No. 12 Florida Atlantic University (23-10, 7-1 Conference USA), who dispatched the Cardinal in a series of hard-won duels to take the first-round win and advance to Thursday’s double-elimination bracket.

The loss capped off what has been a historic season for Stanford. The team broke the previous program record of 23 victories in a season — set by last year’s team — with 24 wins during the 2022 season. Additionally, the top pair of sophomores Xolani Hodel and Kate Reilly, along with senior Charlie Ekstrom, received AVCA Second-Team All-America honors last week. Reilly also set a record for wins by an individual in a season.

The Owls got off to a strong start on Wednesday, winning the first set on four of the five courts. The third pair of sophomore Emmy Sharp and freshman Taylor Wilson claimed the Cardinal’s only first set victory of the match, 21-13.

But Stanford came roaring back as the five duels entered their second sets, reminding their opponents of the grit the team has become known for. The Cardinal’s first pairing, Hodel and Reilly, showed why they were recently the Pac-12 pair of the week, claiming a tight second set 21-19 after dropping the first.

The only matchup to end in straight sets was an 18-21, 16-21 loss for the fourth pair, senior Maddie Dailey and sophomore Maya Harvey.

Looking to reverse the match’s momentum, the second pair of Ekstrom and junior Maddi Kriz and the fifth pair of senior Jordan McKinney and freshman Emma Morris also found their rhythm. The two teams took their second sets after dropping their respective openers.

With four of the five courts entering deciding third sets, the fight was on.

After winning a dominant second set 21-8, Ekstrom and Kriz lost the third 9-15, giving Florida Atlantic a 2-0 advantage in the match. The Owls only needed one more duel to go their way to win.

But McKinney and Morris would not go down quietly. They continued to apply pressure on court five, staying within striking distance of their opponents and forcing an error to deny one set point. Florida Atlantic then managed to convert their second set point to take the set 15-12, claiming the third and final win their team needed to advance.

With the 3-0 victory, the Owls ended Stanford’s 2022 season and moved on to the double-elimination round.

Despite the loss, the Cardinal conclude its 2022 run with program-best results and a reputation of resilience. As Stanford will be losing just three seniors to graduation, most of the team will return to pursue a possible third-straight NCAA championship appearance in 2023.

Madeline Grabb is a desk editor for the sports section. She is a sophomore from Sagaponack, New York, planning on studying the humanities. You can find her pondering the human consequences of performance-enhancing drugs and the greater meaning behind the term "Friday night lights." Contact her at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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