Volleyball off to strong start with weekend sweep

The USC women’s volleyball team proved to be nearly unbeatable at home over the weekend, defeating all three teams it faced en route to winning the 2010 Luxe City Center Trojan Invitational.

Sky high · Junior setter Kendall Bateman was named Most Valuable Player for the 2010 Luxe City Center Trojan Invitational, which USC won. - Daily Trojan File Photo

The Women of Troy lost only one set during the matches, as they swept Loyola Marymount Friday night 3-0 before rolling to 3-0 and 3-1 wins Saturday against Bucknell and Cal State Fullerton, respectively.

The most suspenseful match came Saturday night against Cal State Fullerton. The Women of Troy dropped the first set 25-22, forcing the team to overcome a deficit for the first time this season.

USC then pulled out to a 23-19 lead in the second set before four unanswered points by Cal State Fullerton pushed the score to a 23-23 tie. But a game-winning kill delivered by freshman outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana allowed USC to prevail in the end, 26-24.

Riding their momentum from the second set win, the Women of Troy did not look back, winning the third set 25-18 and clinching the match and tournament title in the fourth set, 25-19.

“After losing the first game, I didn’t know how we’d handle that,” said USC coach Mick Haley. “I thought we battled really well.”

Overall, the primetime battle featured a number of long rallies and exceptional diving plays by freshman libero Natalie Hagglund that had the crowd applauding. Junior setter Kendall Bateman proved to be a catalyst for USC’s success as well, recording a career high 66 assists and 18 digs in the final match.

After the match, when asked what he was most proud of regarding his team’s comeback, Haley was unable to identify a single factor.

“They didn’t doubt themselves,” Haley said. “They picked each other up. They rooted for each other when they came out to rest.”

Saturday morning’s match against Bucknell lacked the intensity of the final, but was successful for the Women of Troy nonetheless. USC dominated the first set with a convincing 25-7 victory, and followed with 25-18 and 25-13 wins in the second and third sets to clinch the match.

On Friday against Loyola Marymount, USC once again started strong, winning the first set 25-12 and the second 25-18. In the third set, Haley took the opportunity to insert more freshmen into the lineup; and although the score was tighter at 25-19, USC again managed to finish on top.

“I think whenever you do get to the third set you have to remember to always finish and the game’s never over,” Bateman said. “We’ll just have to work on that and keep our focus until the end of the match.”

Friday’s victory was literally one for the books, as it marked Haley’s 1,000th victory in collegiate women’s volleyball. Despite the impressive milestone, he said he had not thought much about the numbers and did not attribute the victories to his coaching ability.

“I don’t even know what it means to win 1,000,” Haley said. “You know, it just means that I’ve had awfully good players and been at awfully good schools, and for that, I’m extremely appreciative.”

Although Haley chose to remain humble, his players could not resist the opportunity to praise him.

“He’s done amazing things, and it’s just great to be here playing under him because you know he’s one of the best coaches in the nation, if not the best coach,” Hagglund said.

Not only was Friday’s match a historic one for Haley; it was also the first collegiate game for the team’s six active freshmen. And though their play was highlighted, the nerves were present as well.

“I was freaking out at first,” Hagglund said. “My hands were shaking every time I passed the ball.”

Haley utilized his team’s youth and depth throughout the entire tournament — he used 14 players and repeatedly made rotation changes. In Saturday morning’s match against Bucknell, he sat junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter and junior middle blocker Lauren Williams until the third set.

“So far, everybody’s just worked so hard that everybody deserved a chance to show me and show everybody else what they can do,” Haley said.

Jupiter and Williams were both named to the All-Tournament team, and Bateman was honored with the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.

USC will next face action in a three-day tournament in Hawaii starting Friday. The Women of Troy will get a chance at a rematch against No. 5 Hawai’i, which ended USC’s run in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Galen Center last year.