The No. 17 USC women’s volleyball team is officially over its mid-season slump.
Behind the exceptional play of sophomore middle blocker Lauren Williams and sophomore setter Kendall Bateman, the Women of Troy upset the No. 4 Washington Huskies Friday night, 3-2 (25-18, 24-26, 22-25, 25-21, 15-13), and defeated the No. 25 Washington State Cougars Saturday, 3-1 (24-26, 25-18, 28-26, 25-16), at the Galen Center.
In Saturday’s match against the Cougars, Williams followed up her strong Friday night performance and posted a career high 19 kills without an error for a .559 night (19-0-34).
Bateman, out all week with a sprained ankle, recorded 60 assists and eight digs for USC (17-9, 6-8), in what coach Mick Haley called a gutsy performance.
“She inspired everybody,” Haley said. “With Bateman now being the setter that could deliver to the middles, it really makes the middles an offensive threat. It has just taken a while to get these guys on track.”
Williams got going in a big way, and so did fellow middle blocker junior Audrey Eichler, who posted 13 kills and five blocks. Also helping spread out the offensive attack Saturday was sophomore outside hitter Alex Jupiter (14 kills and 10 digs) junior outside hitter Kimmee Roleder (12 kills and eight digs) and senior outside hitter Jessica Gysin (11 kills and eight digs).
Haley said his team’s attack was crucial in the victory over the Cougars.
“It really spreads out the opponent’s defense because now we’re attacking in the middle and all six rotations,” he said. “It makes it real tough on the opponents to prepare for us.”
Cassie Robbins led the way for the Cougars (16-10, 5-10) with 12 kills and no errors for a .571 (12-0-21) night, while Meagan Ganzer had a team-high 14 kills. Brittany Tillman added 12 kills while setter Renee Bordelon had 49 assists.
None of it was enough to stop the Women of Troy, who had five players post double figures in kills.
After losing the first set to the Cougars, USC bounced back to win the second set behind an 11-3 run. The third set, however, was the turning point of the match. Trailing 24-21, USC evened the score at 24 before Jupiter recorded back-to-back kills for the set win.
“Being down 24-21 and not panicking was really good,” Haley said. “Winning that game really put us in control.”
Leading the match 2-1, the Women of Troy used a 9-2 run to put the Cougars away in the final set.
The victory allowed USC to keep its momentum high coming off Friday’s upset over No. 4 Washington (20-4, 10-4) in a five set duel.
The middles led the way in the match, as Williams posted 14 kills and tied a season high with eight blocks and Eichler had a season high 15 kills and four blocks.
Gysin recorded 15 kills for USC while registering a career high 20 digs while sophomore Jupiter had a team high 21 kills and eight digs. Bateman had 57 assists, seven digs and three block assists while senior libero Alli Hillgren chipped in 28 digs.
Airial Salvo led Washington with 17 kills, 18 digs and six blocks while hitting .390 (17-1-41).
Trailing 2-1 in the match, USC battled back to win a tough fourth set behind the stellar play of Gysin and Jupiter.
Up 11-9 in the final set, Gysin’s shot off a Washington block gave her team a 12-9 lead. The Huskies followed with a kill and a triple block to make the score 12-11.
Eichler used a kill for a 13-11 lead before Washington sided out for the 13-12 score. Gysin gave USC the match point and Jupiter’s final kill left USC with a win in the match, 3-2.
“I felt like we had been in control most of the match,” Gysin said. “The games we did let them win, we just let it slip and made too many errors.”
Following two impressive wins, the Women of Troy head to Oregon next weekend to face the Ducks and Beavers for its last two road matches of the season. Haley hopes his team’s regained swagger and improved defensive play will be the difference away from the Galen Center, where USC has struggled all season.
“We’re starting to get our confidence back. Playing at home certainly helps,” Haley said. “But winning on the road is essentially the way you get ahead in this conference.”