It started with the top recruiting class in the country. It ended with an impressive run but, ultimately, a difficult loss in the Final Four.
The No. 6 USC women’s volleyball team had beaten California twice during the year in Pac-10 play. But winning a third time proved to be too great a feat for the Women of Troy, as the Golden Bears swept USC 25-14, 25-17, 25-20.
“It’s so disappointing to lose to a team like that at the end, especially after beating them twice during the season,” said junior middle blocker Lauren Williams.
The Women of Troy (29-5, 14-4) were plagued by a slow start due to rotation and net violations, and dug themselves in a hole they could never recover from.
“We couldn’t get our defense to adjust to what we had done the first two times with them,” said USC coach Mick Haley, “so I think that we were mentally tired.”
In the preceding match, the Women of Troy found themselves against another familiar opponent, the Stanford Cardinal — the only team to beat USC twice during the regular season.
“In both of the Stanford matches, for some reason, I didn’t feel like we had a very good effort,” Haley said.
Fortunately, the third time around, it was the Women of Troy that were able to come out on top.
“We changed our systems a little bit to try to accommodate what they did, and at that point in the season they weren’t fittingly able to adjust to what we were doing, so it worked out quite well,” Haley said.
USC had defeated New Mexico and San Diego in opening round matches at the Galen Center. The Women of Troy then went on to sweep Indiana in the regional semifinal.
USC’s No. 6 seed would not have been possible without strong performances during conference play. Entering the Final Four, the Women of Troy had won nine straight and 15 out of 16 matches.
Haley considered the start of the second half of Pac-10 play to be the big turning point for his team.
USC entered the second half of the conference season with a 6-3 record after losing to Stanford, Washington and Arizona State.
But the Women of Troy were nearly flawless the rest of the way, losing only to Stanford and finishing in third place in the conference.
One major reason for the team’s success was the large number of newcomers, which could have originally been seen as a hindrance. USC boasted six freshmen and a redshirt sophomore, who became eligible midway through the season.
“You can’t measure how important it was for the freshmen to get all the way to the Final Four,” Haley said. “They have a vision now of how it works and what they want to do every time.”
One of these freshmen, outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana, was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. She also earned All-Pac-10 Honors in her debut season. Joining her were outside hitter Alex Jupiter and middle blocker Lauren Williams. Setter Kendall Bateman earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention.
Later in the year, Jupiter, Williams and Bateman were named All-Americans. Two-time All-American Jupiter was granted first team honors, while Bateman was named to the second team and Williams to the third.
But even with all these victories and awards, the Women of Troy are nowhere near ready to settle.
“Our expectations are national championships. That’s what we want,” Haley said. “I think we have a plan for the next 12 months culminating in getting to the Final Four and this time winning.”
The players hope to duplicate last year’s success as well, but hope to take it one step further.
“It’s my last year. I want a championship,” Williams declared about her upcoming final season.