The No. 8 USC women’s volleyball team consistently comes out of the gate strong against its opponents. The question is: What happens after this solid start?
That might be the most appropriate story line when looking at the two matches the Women of Troy played this weekend against No. 1 Stanford and No. 7 California at the Galen Center.
USC (14-2, 3-2) ended up going 1-1, losing to Stanford in four sets Friday (18-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-15) before defeating California in five sets Saturday (25-19, 25-23, 23-25, 23-25, 17-15).
Saturday night’s match against Cal was as exciting as it was nerve-wracking. USC went up two sets and took a 7-0 lead in the third behind outstanding serves from junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter. But shortly after, Cal started chipping away at the gap, scoring five straight points and taking a 14-13 lead. The Golden Bears later won the third set before taking the fourth as well.
“Sometimes you relax just a little bit when you get a 7-0 lead or any kind of lead like that, and the other team gets momentum, and then you can’t get back on top no matter what the score is,” USC coach Mick Haley said.
Fortunately, the Women of Troy still had some fight left in them. In the fifth set, USC was down 14-12 and one point away from suffering a loss. After a block by freshman middle blocker Alexis Olgard and a hitting error by Cal, the score was suddenly 14-14.
After a Cal kill put USC down a point for the second time, Jupiter came up big with a winning kill and block, giving USC the 16-15 lead. A hitting error by the Bears on the next point gave the Women of Troy the hard-fought win.
Haley said he was impressed with the way his young players competed in Saturday’s match, especially after they had just come off a loss.
“We made enough mistakes to lose it. On the other hand, we forced the other team into enough mistakes that we had a chance to win it, and when we had the opportunity, we took it, which is very encouraging,” Haley said.
“You can’t be scared to lose. Obviously, you don’t want to make any mistakes and you want to be flawless at that point, but you have to go all out. Playing scared is not going to get you anything really, so it just comes down to confidence,” Jupiter said.
Jupiter, who referred to Saturday’s match as both intense and fun, ended the night with an impressive 26 kills. Freshman outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana added 15 kills, while Olgard had 12.
The final result was not as sweet Friday. After taking the first set against the Cardinal, USC was unable to win another. Stanford’s Alix Klineman gave the Women of Troy a difficult time, recording 27 kills and helping the Cardinal earn its sixth straight win against USC.
The Women of Troy had a chance to go up 2-0 in the match, serving with the score tied at 23-23 late in the second set. A serving error by freshman libero Natalie Hagglund, however, gave the Cardinal a one-point lead and the eventual victory.
Haley largely attributed the loss to a lack of focus on the part of his players.
“They looked like they were looking at the situation and not sure of themselves,” Haley said.
The Women of Troy did their best not to let the upsetting loss faze them, as they knew they had to focus on Cal.
“I think we can learn from what happened, but we can’t get down on ourselves. We have to keep our confidence. We’re a good team,” junior setter Kendall Bateman said.
After a draining weekend for the Women of Troy, Haley said he was able to walk away satisfied, having seen what his team was truly made of, and confident there were some valuable lessons his players could take away.
“There’s always a chance to be successful if you just stay with it,” Haley said.