With a 29-5 record on the season, the USC women’s volleyball team has orchestrated a near-flawless season. Stiff competition from Pac-12 rivals Stanford and UCLA notwithstanding, the five losses have merely served as blips on the radar for a club that has dominated opponents with 17 regular-season sweeps and two more in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, having already expected to reach the semifinals, the Women of Troy set their sights on the big stage with the finals just around the corner.
The sixth-seeded Women of Troy head to Texas this week, set to face the unfamiliar Wichita State Shockers (24-9) on Friday night in the Austin Regional semifinal Round of 16.
“If you want to use a pun, it’s a shocker — but only to those who aren’t watching, as Wichita State is on a good run the last three weeks,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “If you look at the stats, they match up with us in every category. Their setter [Chelsey Feekin] is critical for them and is the coach on the floor for them.”
The Women of Troy made quick work of their first two playoff matches, easily dispatching Fairfield 3-0 in first round action (25-8, 25-11, 25-10) before fending off St. Mary’s 3-0 (28-26, 25-16, 25-19) in a much stiffer match. The victories catapulted the team to its fifth semifinal appearance in seven years and ninth overall in 12 years under Haley.
The first-round match against the Stags arguably showcased the team’s most consistent effort of the season, as the Women of Troy registered 47 kills for a .518 attacking percentage while logging nine aces. Freshman outside hitter Samantha Bricio christened her playoff career with a dominating performance, notching 16 kills. Senior opposite Katie Fuller and junior outside hitter Sara Shaw each recorded nine kills, while sophomore setter Hayley Crone notched 31 assists and junior libero Natalie Hagglund added 13 digs.
St. Mary’s proved to be a different story altogether for the Women of Troy, who promptly began the match with an extended set but put away the final two sets to advance. Junior middle blocker Alexis Olgard inflicted significant damage defensively, recording six solo blocks (and 10 total) to go alongside six kills. The six solo blocks were the highest for USC since Emily Adams also recorded six in a November 2002 game against Stanford.
The Women of Troy recorded a perfect first set with 18 kills and no errors, but still trailed 26-25. A quick Olgard kill and a crushing shot by Bricio brought up set point at 27-26. Olgard ended an expense by recording her third solo block of the frame to seal it at 28-26.
The second set, while still competitive, proved less tight than the first. After a back-and-forth battle early, the Women of Troy jumped up 20-15 on a kill by freshman middle blocker Alicia Ogoms, after which an attacking error sealed the set at 25-16. The third set saw the Gaels keep pace, but the Women of Troy pushed out to leads of 19-12 and 23-16 before finishing the match on a Gael service error.
“We had three hard days of practice this week,” Haley said. “We’re not just focused on winning the match, but we are also trying to get better as well.”
While the Women of Troy have not played the Shockers this season and are relatively unfamiliar with the program, Haley placed particular emphasis on the need to respect any and all opponents in the playoffs.
“We want our players to respect their team and coaching staff,” Haley said. “Everyone who can get to the sweet 16 can win on any given night and they are playing with nothing to lose. WS plays in a good conference. They will be ready to play and we are not looking past Wichita State.”
The winner of the USC-Wichita State match will advance to the regional championship match Saturday against the winner of the Texas-Florida semifinal.