Looking to rebound after a disappointing loss to No. 2 Penn State last weekend, the No. 3 USC women’s volleyball team heads east to face off against a collection of Florida schools in the FGCU Homewood Suites Invitational Sept. 2-3 before setting their sights on a nonconference matchup with Clemson on Sunday.
“We face challenges we didn’t count on as [Central Florida] is playing pretty well, the local team Florida Gulf Coast will be pretty competitive,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “We have to be careful playing the home team at home. We wanted an easier matchup at Furman, but they beat Wisconsin and took one [set] from Duke, so we have our work cut out for us this weekend.”
On tap first, the Women of Troy (1-1) will face off against an upstart UCF team (2-1) that is led by one of Haley’s former assistants in Todd Dagenais, who coached at USC from 2005-2007. Dagenais, now in his fourth season with the Golden Knights, will need to rely on sophomore outside hitter Angelica Crump, who leads the team in kills, if they are to take down USC.
After the Women of Troy face off against UCF, they will battle Florida Gulf Coast (2-1), which is playing on its home turf and looking to even the all-time series after falling to USC when it played at the Galen Center in 2009. Haley will look to offset the hitting of the Eagles’ outside/middle hitter Jill Hopper with a steady dose of senior outside hitter Alex Jupiter and junior outside hitter/opposite Katie Fuller.
“We saw UCF coming out of the airport and they look huge,” Haley said. “Plus Furman already has a few upsets, so we have a tough weekend ahead.”
In its final draw of the two-day tournament, USC faces Furman, led by long-standing coach Michelle Young, for the first time in program history. The Women of Troy will be forced to contend with junior outside hitter Chandler Ambrester.
Rounding out the weekend, USC hopes to hand Clemson (3-0) its first loss of the season in what is also the first meeting between these schools. This will be the first real test for the Tigers as they look to capitalize on the fatigue that might set in on the Women of Troy once Sunday rolls around.
“Clemson is a good team. We always come into a game confident we can win,” Haley said.” They’re definitely a team to watch out for though.”
Despite the early season hiccup at the hands of the then-top-ranked Nittany Lions, USC is poised for a big season as its returns three All-Americans from last year’s Final Four squad in Jupiter, as well as senior setter Kendall Bateman and senior middle blocker Lauren Williams.
“We have a lot of people playing hard right now and we want to give everyone some time,“ Haley said. “It just depends on how the weekend works itself out.”
Jupiter, in particular, has gotten off to a hot start to the season, ranking fourth in the Pac-12 in kills, as she looks to become USC’s first three-time All-American since Bibiana Candelas in 2005. The French native is also on the cusp of passing Keao Burdine to become USC’s all-time leader in points scored. She also ranks 10th in kills on the Women of Troy’s all-time list.
USC will return home from its Labor Day weekend road trip to face UCLA on Sept. 9 at Galen Center, marking the team’s first home match of the season.