The No. 8 ranked USC women’s volleyball team didn’t need to be reminded of how difficult of a test they would face Thursday night. It was fitting that they’d return home from a grueling, four-game road trip with a bout against Stanford, the nation and conference’s top team. But on the strength of extra motivation and a desire for revenge, the Women of Troy delivered one of their most complete performances of the season.
Junior libero Natalie Hagglund recorded a career-high 44 digs, one shy of the USC record, and freshman outside hitter Samantha Bricio had a banner night with 19 kills and a personal-best 22 digs, leading the Women of Troy to a thrilling 3-1 victory (25-19, 25-20, 27-29, 25-22) over the Cardinal at the Galen Center.
“We’ve felt bad ever since we went to the Bay Area and played so badly against Stanford,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “Tonight, we didn’t try to overpower Stanford but instead play within our system and take what they give us.”
The Women of Troy secured the first point of the match on a left-side kill by senior opposite Katie Fuller. Later in the set, junior outside hitter Sara Shaw finished off a thrilling rally with a left-side shot to push the lead to 10-6. Freshman outside hitter Samantha Bricio followed a kill with a service ace to push the lead to 19-15. Kills by Shaw and Bricio set up match point before junior middle blocker Alexis Olgard blocked a Stanford shot to seal it at 25-19. The Women of Troy attacked at a steady .333 while registering 18 kills, including six by Bricio and five by Fuller.
The second set began tighter than the first, as Bricio followed a Fuller kill with her second ace to knot the score at six apiece. The Women of Troy built a 12-10 lead on the strength of back-to-back Olgard blocks, then extended it to 17-16 on a Bricio finish. The Cardinal came back to tie it at 19-all before Fuller notched consecutive kills to bring up set point. After falling behind 7-6 in the third, USC reeled off three straight points to go up 9-7, but Stanford rallied with three of their own to go back up 10-9. Fittingly, the set went down to the wire, with each team answering the other team before Olgard finished off an exciting rally for the 20-19 lead. Consecutive Cardinal errors and kills by Shaw and Olgard gave the Women of Troy a five-point advantage and set point.
Four nail-biting kills by Stanford narrowed the lead to a single point, and sure enough, a fifth kill tied it at 24-all. Freshman outside hitter Jordan Burgess knocked down a kill to give Stanford a 25-24 lead, but Olgard came back with a kill down the middle to tie it at 25-all. Shaw turned back match point and Bricio set up match point, but Stanford remained relentless, registering three straight kills to take the set 29-27.
“I think we stayed patient, and that helped a lot,” Olgard said. “We didn’t get excited after every play but instead we stayed relaxed and that helped us win the fourth game.”
The Cardinal relayed the momentum into an 8-4 lead, but USC came roaring back to take the 10-8 lead and force a Cardinal timeout. Freshman middle blocker Alicia Ogoms knocked down a kill for a 17-15 lead, but Stanford rallied to tie it at 21. Bricio then finished the match with a strong kill down the middle to seal the set 25-21 and the most important win so far for the Women of Troy.
“You can think of this as a national championship game, and that’s what we’ve been striving for all year,” Hagglund said. “This win gives us a lot of confidence and assurance as a team that we can win the national championship, regardless of whom we’ve lost to in the past.”
Nonetheless, the Women of Troy will have a quick turnaround, as Cal visits tomorrow night, determined to win with its season on the line.
“They’ve got their backs against the wall and they need to be .500 to get into the tournament,” Haley said. “The biggest thing for us is to get our bench more involved and avoid exhausting our starters before the season winds down.”