No. 7 USC prepared for weekend at home

The No. 7 USC women’s volleyball team opens up the weekend celebrating Alumni Night on Friday with Utah (11-11, 2-7) on tap for a 6 p.m. match. Sunday presents another matchup against a Pac-12 foe, as conference newcomer Colorado (13-7, 3-5) heads to town trying to seek revenge on a USC squad that has dominated them in the past.

Though the Women of Troy (17-3, 5-3) had a difficult week when they headed up north to face rivals Stanford and Cal, playing at home might get the team back in a steady rhythm.

“This was probably the hardest trip that we’ve been on, especially with midterms going on. They were tired and for them to win 3-0 against Cal is very, very good,” coach Mick Haley said.

Despite winning at Cal in three sets, USC still ended their road trip feeling as if it didn’t get a fair shake against a freshmen-led Stanford team.

“We know we needed to step it up after the Stanford game,” senior outside hitter Katie Fuller said. “We were really focused this weekend and we got the momentum back.”

The lack of a consistent presence in the middle was never more obvious than during the match against the Cardinal. Though USC didn’t get great contributions from outside hitting, Stanford continually dominated at the net.

While some of that has to do with Stanford middle blocker Carly Wopat patrolling the net, the Women of Troy know they must become more consistent in their attacking in general.

“We need to work on our offense,” Haley said. “We’re going to introduce a few new things into our offensive system, but we’ve had to shorten our practices because of tests … This week allowed us to get our breath back and we just need to simplify our game.”

When junior middle hitter Alexis Olgard did get involved, USC showed signs of life against Stanford. That example just goes to show that when USC has its middle hitters involved, it relieves the pressure off the outside hitters.

Against Utah, the Women of Troy will have an added edge with the home advantage of Alumni Night. The Utes have come on strong as of late, dominating a talented Arizona State team last week. With Utah led by sophomore Bailey Bateman, who ranks top in the conference with 121 blocks, USC will have its hands full once again trying to get kills with a strong defense on the other side of the net.

“We’ve been working on our defense and execution in practice,” said Fuller. “We just need to be relaxed and focus on our ball skills.”

The Women of Troy will look to continue their success with a easier-than-usual slate against Washington and Washington State beginning on Oct. 26-27. With USC entering a very winnable stretch, the Women of Troy will likely display their true form as a team in the coming weeks.