Women of Troy embark on last road trip
The No. 4 USC womenâs volleyball team will head north to play Oregon State and No. 20 Oregon this weekend for USCâs last road trip of the regular season, as the race for the Pac-12 title comes to a close.
The champion of the Pac-12âs inaugural season likely wonât be decided until USC (20-4, 15-2) plays at No. 1 UCLA (22-3, 15-2) in the season finale on Nov. 25.
But for that match to be deemed winner-take-all, the Bruins and the Women of Troy will have to defeat the Oregon squads on the road this weekend and beat Arizona and Arizona State at home the following weekend.
USC coach Mick Haley admits âthere is a possibilityâ that the finale against UCLA could act as a Pac-12 championship game, but he says there are still important matches to be played before that.
âI donât like to speculate on those types of things,â Haley said. âWe canât look past the Oregon teams. We have to take it one step at a time.â
USCâs next step comes on Friday against Oregon State (14-12, 6-10), a team the Women of Troy swept earlier this season.
Haley says the rematch will be much tougher this time around in Corvallis, Ore., where the Beavers hold a 7-4 record.
âWeâre going to get their best,â Haley said. âIf they lose this weekend, they probably wonât make the NCAA tournament. Their backs are against the wall.â
Outside hitter Camille Saxton leads the Beavers with 3.53 kills per set, and she is second in the Pac-12 with 34 service aces, behind only USC senior outside hitter Alex Jupiter, who has 36.
On Saturday night, the Women of Troy will travel to Eugene, Ore., for a showdown with the Ducks (17-7, 10-8), who have won five of their last six matches.
The Ducks boast outside hitter Alaina Bergsma, who ranks third in the conference with 4.60 kills per set, and setter Lauren Plum, who is second in the conference with 11.88 assists per set.
Though blocking isnât usually considered to be one of USCâs strong suits, the Women of Troy do have a statistical advantage in the category over the Ducks, who are ranked last in the Pac-12 with 1.75 blocks per set.
Perhaps because of that, Haley says the play of his middle blockers â senior Lauren Williams, sophomore Alexis Olgard and freshman Hannah Schraer â will be critical this weekend.
If USC performs like it has over the past couple weekends, its chances look good.
Williams, who leads the Pac-12 in hitting percentage (.406), posted 20 kills and six blocks in last weekendâs home victories over No. 11 Washington and Washington State.
â[Williams] is a dynamic offensive player,â Haley said. âI just want her to improve her blocking.â
Olgard broke out two weekends ago in her first start of the season against No. 5 California with eight kills after missing most of the season recovering from knee surgery. Sheâs since split time with Schraer, who has repeatedly received praise from Haley for stepping in as a freshman.
Rotating in different middles can make it tough for setters to get a rhythm going, but senior setter Kendall Bateman says having several capable middles is more beneficial than negative.
âThereâs a good feeling for all the middles,â Bateman said. â[Williams] is a fifth-year senior with lots of experience, I got to play with [Olgard] for all of last season, and I was playing with [Schraer] for all this year before [Olgard] came back.â
That depth might give the Women of Troy a big advantage this weekend, but they arenât underestimating anyone.
âWe have a great deal of respect for all the teams in our conference,â Haley said. âItâs especially hard to play on the road in the Pac-12.â
USC starts the weekendâs matches Friday against Oregon State at 7 p.m., before traveling to Oregon on Saturday for an 8:30 p.m. match.