The nearly flawless season put together so far by the USC women’s volleyball team should come as no surprise — veteran experience has propelled the Women of Troy to a successful start. The likes of Katie Fuller, Natalie Hagglund and Alexis Olgard have become staple names on a team that has its sights set on nothing short of a national championship this season.
But quietly turning heads is outside hitter Samantha Bricio, the 17-year-old freshman phenom who has arguably been the team’s most important contributor thus far.
Bricio, who arrived at USC this season after an impressive high school career in Mexico, has been an integral component of the Women of Troy’s success this season, leading the team with 242 kills and attacking at a clip of .302 to stake the team to a 16-2 mark on the season. But even more impressive is that she’s accomplised this despite her youth and a steep cultural shift.
“The big thing that comes to mind is her maturity for this age,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “She’s only 17, and this is a very big move for her, to come to the United States. She comes from a tight-knit family, a very good family. There’s not a lot of English in the family, and [Bricio] doesn’t use it on a daily basis, so to come here is by no means an easy transition.”
Bricio’s volleyball career started at an early age, with her mom serving as her first coach. She came into her own last year at the age of 16, becoming the youngest member of Mexico’s senior national team. During the team’s run to the 2010 NORCECA Youth Championships, Bricio was a standout, notching 29 points in the championship match and earning Most Valuable Player honors and a silver medal.
These accomplishments emboldened Bricio to come and pit herself against the best American collegiate talent in the rugged Pac-12, knowing her adjustment to American culture and the college lifestyle might be more difficult than her adjustments on the court.
Yet despite these changes, Haley says Bricio’s demeanor off the court, not just her talent, has resonated with her teammates and coaches.
“Another thing that’s been impressive about her — beyond her volleyball skills — is her personality,” Haley said. “She’s very friendly and nice, and she disarms you with her smile.”
Senior opposite hitter Katie Fuller, second on the team with 206 kills, has nothing but praise for Bricio, noting that she has gone above and beyond what the team expected from her before the start of the season.
“Typically, when you have freshmen coming in, you expect them to be nervous and not ready to step up in a starting position,” Fuller said. “We’ve been so fortunate to have four freshmen that are ready to play. For Sam to come in here and take on a leadership role has been wonderful so far.”
USC has felt Bricio’s impact from all angles. Besides kills, she also leads the team with 276 points and 17 service aces in addition to 144 digs, which ranks fourth behind only Hagglund, Fuller and sophomore setter Hayley Crone.
“She has so much potential. She’s already one of the top scorers in the conference, and she’s only a freshman,” Fuller said. “It will be really exciting to watch her grow. She’s been working hard in the weight room and on the court, and I expect a lot out of her.”
Despite her potential and seemingly effortless performances on the court, Bricio — like most freshmen — is not immune to bouts of homesickness.
“I still haven’t adjusted fully,” Bricio said. “I’m away from home and my family, and I miss them a lot. But I think I just have to keep going, and it’s just going to take some time. I just want to finish my career and be a good player. My teammates treat me like a sister, so it’s been very nice.”
The future is bright for Bricio, who has taken over this team as a freshman and can only get better with experience. Granted, the team has not even reached the halfway point of the season, so it’s tough to determine whether Bricio will maintain her dynamic play. Regardless, Haley doesn’t hold back from predicting a bright future for the team’s youngest member.
“I see her taking more and more leadership for the team. She can be a true person that you want to set the ball to when the game is on the line,” Haley said. “She will become one of the best passer-hitters in the Pac-12.”