After a disappointing start in Pac-10 play, the No. 16 USC women’s volleyball team rebounded in the second half of the year to finish fifth in the country’s toughest conference, and will host Oklahoma in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament.
The bracket, announced Sunday afternoon, pits the Women of Troy (21-9) against the Sooners (18-11) Friday evening at the Galen Center. If USC wins, it will host either No. 12 Hawaii (27-2) or New Mexico (20-9) in the second round of the tournament on Saturday.
USC coach Mick Haley said he knew his team was going to face tough opponents early in the tournament and feels fortunate that the NCAA committee chose his team to host the first two rounds. The Women of Troy have only lost two matches at home all season.
“We get to host, and that’s a really good thing,” Haley said. “We’ll take it one team at a time. Right now, the focus is on Oklahoma.”
USC defeated the Sooners, 3-1, in an early season tournament in 2008.
The Women of Troy are riding a six-match winning streak heading into the tournament. The team’s most recent two wins were against Arizona State and No. 19 Arizona this weekend at the Galen Center.
Led by the inspired play of All-American senior outside hitter Jessica Gysin on Senior Day, the Women of Troy defeated the Arizona Wildcats, 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 36-34, 25-23), in a tight conference match to end the season.
Gysin had a career-high 23 kills and 16 digs to help lead her team to victory. Haley said he was proud of the way the sixth-year senior ended her season and said Gysin has been a captain who has led by example all year long.
“She’s constantly giving everybody encouragement,” Haley said. “It’s hard not to come in here and play hard when you see your captains playing hard everyday. That kind of culture breeds success in the matches.”
Haley also said he was very impressed by the way Gysin stepped up in the close match Saturday against the Wildcats.
“The other team did about everything they could to try to stop her and still couldn’t. Hopefully, there’s more left in the tank,” he said.
Senior captain libero Alli Hillgren recorded 34 digs — two off her career best — in the victory. Sophomore setter Kendall Bateman recorded career-highs with 62 assists and 15 digs. Sophomore outside hitter Alex Jupiter had 23 kills with 13 digs, while sophomore middle blocker Lauren Williams had 12 kills against one error.
Outside hitter Tiffany Owens led Arizona (19-10, 8-10) with 22 kills and 14 digs, while outside hitter Whitney Dosty had 20 kills and 10 digs with four block assists. Setter Paige Weber posted 59 assists for the Wildcats.
With the match tied 1-1, USC won a draining third set 36-34 when Jupiter slammed two kills to finally put Arizona away. Riding the momentum, the Women of Troy closed the door on the Wildcats in the fourth set to finish their season on a high note.
“It was really close the whole way,” Haley said. “You can’t have a better finishing match and come out on top than that.”
USC also defeated Arizona State on Friday night, 3-1 (25-16, 25-16, 22-25, 25-18), behind the strong play of Jupiter, who posted 25 kills, 15 digs and hit .340 in the match.
Bateman tallied 59 assists with two kills and eight digs. Williams finished with 14 kills and four block assists, while Gysin had 15 kills and 10 digs. Junior Audrey Eichler had nine kills without an error and six blocks (three solo).
Outside hitter Sarah Reaves led Arizona State (13-16, 3-14) with 16 kills and 11 digs. Outside hitter Camri Zweisler had eight kills in two sets, while outside hitter Sofie Schlagintweit and middle blocker Erica Wilson had seven kills each for the Sun Devils.