The No. 2 USC women’s volleyball team is set to face crosstown rival and top-ranked UCLA on Wednesday at the Galen Center. Coming off of four straight weekends that have ended with tournament wins, the Women of Troy (12-0) won’t catch a break, opening up Pac-12 play with their toughest challenge so far this season.
The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.
Unlike USC, the Bruins (8-1) have already had a misstep so far this year, despite their No. 1 rank, after stumbling to Nebraska during the first week of the season. Since then, though, UCLA has rattled off seven straight wins behind the play of senior leaders Rachael Kidder and Tabi Love.
Coincidentally enough, the Women of Troy counter the senior outside hitters of UCLA with a pair of freshman who have played well beyond their years during the early part of this season. Leading the pack has been freshman outside hitter Samantha Bricio, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, who has burst onto the national scene with her stellar play at the net.
Along with Bricio, fellow freshman Alicia Ogoms has started to come on strong, as her playing time has slowly begun to increase. At 6-4, Ogoms has displayed an uncanny knack for the big block, even in part-time duty, and has flashed the ability to be a dominant force at the net as the season goes on.
Supplementing the play of the pair of freshman has been junior All-American libero Natalie Hagglund and potential All-American and senior captain Katie Fuller.
After playing a marginal role on last year’s Final Four team, Fuller has been a dominant force from the off-hand position and has gracefully taken on the job of being the elder statesman of the group. While her hitting has been excellent, the senior opposite hitter has continued to impress with her passing as she has set and then broken her career-high for digs in a game.
In the back row, Hagglund doesn’t have a pretty job, but her serve-receive and passing prowess has been a boon to the undefeated Women of Troy. Constantly moving and hustling, the libero provides playoff experience and sets the tone for USC on and off the court.
Over their last 10 matches against each other, USC and UCLA have an even split at 5-5, with the Women of Troy garnering the last win at the end of the 2011 season. For USC, Wednesday’s game is their first chance to successfully defend the Pac-12 title they earned last season.
Though the 2012 season is still in its infantile stages, it is never too early for a tough test, even against a conference rival. For a team like the Women of Troy that lack big-game experience as a group, Wednesday’s game is a great way to gauge both where the team is and where it might end up.