Heading into the 2010 campaign, 10th-year coach Mick Haley believes the USC women’s volleyball team has the potential to be among the nation’s best.
“With the addition of our recruiting class, we should be a much better team — more experienced, deeper in talent,” said Haley, who has led the Women of Troy to two national championships during his tenure. “If everybody works hard and things goes the way we plan, we are going to be able to compete for a national title.”
The Women of Troy finished fifth in the extremely competitive Pac-10 conference last season, but despite making the NCAA tournament for the 19th consecutive year, the season ended in disappointment when USC was bounced in the second round of the tournament after receiving a tough draw.
This season, the Women of Troy must get off to a fast start if they intend to take the conference crown and Haley seems to be well on his way to ensuring that happens.
Haley was able to sign the No. 1 recruiting class in the country according to Max Preps. As USC looks to replace three starters, including two-time All-Pac-10 player Jessica Gysin, these newcomers will be thrown into the mix from the start.
Outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana was tabbed as the top high school player in the country for 2009, and is touted for possessing a thorough understanding of the nuances of the game. At libero, incoming freshman Natalie Hagglund will place pressure on senior Geena Urango in what should be the fiercest position battle of preseason practice.
Other freshman that could see plenty of playing time include middle blocker Alexis Olgard, opposite Sara Shaw and outside hitter Sam Hirschmann.
When the second round of conference games begin, USC hopes the addition of 6-foot-3-inch Natasa Siljkovic, who will be eligible in late October, will add another dimension to the team down the stretch.
In addition to the incoming class, there is plenty of talent returning for the Women of Troy, including junior setter Kendall Bateman — who led the nation in assists per set — and All-American junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter. Jupiter was the focal point of the offense in 2009 and figures to play a big role once again.
But the Women of Troy will have more scoring options than they did a year ago. With more players with the ability to score, the offensive burden won’t fall solely on Jupiter, and opponents won’t be able to focus their defensive efforts on her — something Haley acknowledges hampered USC last season.
“We need to have point production from Alex but it can’t be all on Alex this year,” Haley said. “Now we can spread the ball around a little bit more and maybe make her more effective.”
Throughout the campaign, USC will face a bevy of tough non-conference matches in addition to a grueling conference schedule that will prepare it for the postseason. After three tune-up games at the Galen Center, the Women of Troy travel to Honolulu for the Hawaii Invitational on Sept. 3.
The Women of Troy will face two teams who made the NCAA tournament a year ago, including the team that knocked them out — Hawaii. The second major test will come when conference play opens as the Women of Troy host rival UCLA.
But with these tests come additional opportunities to build on past experiences, which will become invaluable to the Women of Troy as they try to make an even deeper run come tournament time.