A new fire has been lit underneath the No.12 USC women’s volleyball team during the offseason, and that excitement and energy is allowing the team to perform above the expectations of many, including head coach Mick Haley.
“The performance differences between this summer and previous seasons are like night and day,” Haley said. “Our gym culture is truly exceptional with these girls and the energy this season is exciting. It’s what we like to see at the beginning of the season.”
USC’s women’s volleyball team has been a major force in the Trojan Athletic Department for many years, spending most of the recent years in top-5 rankings, but a mix of injuries and the loss of senior leadership caused the team to slip down to a No.12 preseason ranking.
The team captains this season have taken the responsibility of getting back that senior leadership and are taking that role to heart by dedicating themselves to bonding the team as a family and cohesive unit. Seniors Jessica Gysin, an All-American outside hitter, and Libero Alli Hillgren have focused on their personal game as well as the team game and have really excelled in their offseason practice.
“The seniors are doing a great job getting the team together,” Haley said. “Gysin and Hillgren have brought a maturity and skill to the rest of the team, and they are really bonded as a group.”
Along with the two team captains, the team has one remaining senior: Emilie Stewart, a middle blocker and outside hitter who transferred from Fordham last season.
With such a young team, Haley has said that the sophomores needed to step up to have a successful season, and after their time off, he feels like they have done that and more.
“Alex Jupiter has shown a huge improvement in her precision,” Haley said about the sophomore. “We’ve had a lot of left-side hitters step up to the challenge after a few injuries have left a hole.”
Jupiter led the team in kills and points last season as a freshman, which, Haley said, gave him confidence that she is ready to step up this season.
Junior Geena Urango’s high jump is also showing potential as a weapon for the Women of Troy, which has her in the pack of prospects for an outside hitter position, along with freshman Katie Fuller, junior Kimmee Roleder and Jupiter.
Something unexpectedalso happened during the offseason to improve the team’s depth: the freshmen came in ready to compete.
“This preseason the freshmen made a huge impact on the team,” Haley said. “And that never happens right when freshmen come out to play. They all came in with the energy and responsibility to compete with the team, and it changed the way the team worked together.”
The biggest change to the initial roster was the switch of setter this season.
Senior Taylor Carico announced at the end of last season that she planned to transfer to the University of Minnesota for her final season. Her explanation was that she was looking for a change of scenery and new experiences, though rumors circulated that she might have been unhappy with the Trojan program.
Whatever the reason, Carico’s departure left a void in the roster that has been filled by sophomore Kendall Bateman. Bateman played for the US Junior National team this summer and increased her speed and leadership capabilities, leaving Haley feeling confident in her ability to guide the team to some wins.
The team is hoping to start the season with some of those much sought-after wins as they head to East Lansing, Mich. for the Michigan State University showcase. This Friday they will play host Michigan State at 3:30 p.m., and will continue the tournament on Saturday by playing North Carolina at 9:30 p.m. and finally Albany at 2:30 p.m.
“Each team [in the tournament] is going to present us with a different challenge,” Haley said. “This tournament will show us what we need to work on the rest of the season. We have a chance to be really good, and I am excited to see what this group of players can do with the skills.”