The No. 5 USC women’s volleyball team started its season with a bang, riding the strong play of its freshmen to a 3-0 start at the Texas A&M Invitational this past weekend.
The Women of Troy, coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances, wasted no time in their quest for another deep season, sweeping North Dakota in the season opener 3-0 (25-20, 25-23, 25-21). The win marked the 10th time the team has won its season-opening match in 12 years under head coach Mick Haley.
“Coming in to this tournament, we were all very excited, and our freshmen have come ready to play,” senior opposite hitter Katie Fuller said. “Going 3-0 is a good feeling, and it’s definitely a strong start to the season.”
The first game was close early on as North Dakota closed to within a 16-15 margin after an early 11-6 deficit, but the Women of Troy pulled away to win 25-20, led by Fuller’s eight kills. The Women of Troy registered 19 kills in the first set while holding the Sioux to 10.
The second set saw more of the same, as the Sioux nullified an early 14-8 USC lead to tie the game 17-all. After a back-and-forth battle that saw the Women of Troy take a 24-23 lead, a final kill by junior outside hitter Sara Shaw ended the rally and put the team one win away from a victory. Sure enough, the Sioux put the Women of Troy to the test in the third set, taking an early 12-8 lead, but a 9-3 run gave USC a 17-15 lead, and Shaw delivered her second straight game-winning kill to give the Women of Troy a four-point win and a sweep to start the season.
The Women of Troy saw more competition from Texas A&M, but rebounded from a first-set loss to take the match 3-1 (26-28, 25-14, 25-18, 25-20). USC received significant contributions from its younger core, as sophomore setter Hayley Crone registered a double-double with 42 assists and 12 digs, while highly touted freshman Samantha Bricio registered a match-high 14 kills.
After a close early set, the Women of Troy came back with a dominant second frame, channeling an early 7-0 lead into a 25-14 win. Crone found Fuller for a kill to give USC set point, after which a tandem block by Crone and junior middle blocker Alexis Olgard sealed the win. The third set saw much of the same, as the Women of Troy staked themselves to a 10-5 lead. A kill by Bricio put the team up 20-15, after which a pair of Fuller kills and a Texas A&M service error gave the Women of Troy a win.
The Aggies put up more of a fight after two blowout sets, but couldn’t push through for a win. A service ace from Crone put USC ahead 24-19 after back-and-forth play, and her set to Shaw sealed the match.
The third and final match saw the Women of Troy rout Texas State in straight sets (25-18, 25-19, 25-22) for their second sweep in three games. In the first set, Bricio and fellow freshman middle blocker Alicia Ogoms recorded four kills each, and sophomore middle blocker Hannah Schraer notched kills on the final two plays to give the Women of Troy a win.
After a relatively light second set in which USC built leads of 10-3 and 16-7, the team was tested in the third set, as the Bobcats claimed the first three points. However, senior defensive specialist Erin Yoder’s second ace, one of six total for USC in the match, tied things at 10. The Women of Troy later overcame a four point-deficit to take a 19-18 lead and Ogoms recorded the final point to give the Women of Troy the victory.
Strong play by Fuller and junior libero Natalie Hagglund earned the two all-tournament honors, but even more significant for the team was Bricio being named MVP in her first tournament. The Guadalajara, Mexico native registered 37 kills and 26 digs.
“She’s been amazing for us,” Fuller said. “Coming in from Mexico is such a difficult transition, but she has been playing phenomenally well, and I think everyone’s pleased with her performance so far.”
The Women of Troy will play a quick exhibition match against Jiangsu, China on Aug. 28, after which they’ll host the Luxe City Center Trojan Invitational starting Friday, August 31. For now, coach Mick Haley is pleased with the team’s start.
“We have a lot of talent,” Haley said. “We’re very physical this year, and by the middle of October we can be pretty darn good.”