USC women’s volleyball head coach Mick Haley constantly emphasizes the importance of traveling well. It is no secret in the world of sport that success is hardest to achieve away from the friendly confines of home. The Women of Troy will be tested in that respect early and often this season, and if the team’s performance in last weekend’s season-opening tournament is any indication, those wins might not be so difficult to earn after all.
The opening tournament went swimmingly for the Women of Troy, who received stellar contributions from all parts of their lineup in a 3-0 sweep last weekend. After a 3-1 defeat of Purdue in the season’s first match, the club recorded back-to-back sweeps of Western Kentucky and Alabama A&M to win their first pre-conference tournament of the 2013 campaign.
USC will now hit the road for the second of three consecutive weekends, traveling to the Midwest to participate in the Marquette Challenge. The squad will open with a Friday doubleheader against TCU and Marquette, followed by a Saturday trip to DeKalb, Ill. to face off against Northern Illinois.
“I think we can be pretty good. We did some things that we’ve been practicing, which is encouraging because [that means] we’re doing a good job teaching,” Haley said. “I got to play a lot of players, and we had two very good matches against Western Kentucky and Purdue, both ranked teams.”
Fittingly, a highly touted member of USC’s latest youth movement paved the way in the opening match. Freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu recorded a team-high 15 kills and eight blocks in a stellar debut performance.
“Since this was my first tournament, I really wanted to come out and make a statement,” Nwanebu said. “Everyone on the team has been supportive, so that has helped a lot with my confidence.”
Nwanebu teamed up with sophomore standout Samantha Bricio in the next match, as the two combined for 22 kills to pace USC’s attack. Haley’s decision to play his freshmen paid off, as outsider hitter Elise Ruddins notched eight kills on 14 swings and setter Alice Pizzasegola had 19 assists to complement junior Hayley Crone’s 20.
“I think Ebony performed very well, as did all of our freshmen, for their first tournament,” Haley said. “Ebony had a lot of responsibility and started playing well in the heat of the competition. She showed that she likes to compete and she brought some heat. I’d like to see her blocking and defense get better, but she’s good enough to be a six-rotation player, and that’s our goal for her.”
The Women of Troy concluded the tournament with a dominant performance against Alabama A&M, as Bricio received her third career tournament MVP nod and joined Nwanebu and senior libero and captain Natalie Hagglund on the all-tournament team. Haley rotated all three of his freshman liberos, as newcomers Anne Marie Schmidt and Kelly Wimmer saw their first taste of collegiate action.
“We still have some questions as to where we need to really spend our work,” Haley said. “We got some good blocking, but I don’t think we passed as well as we’re capable of, and we certainly made way too many service errors. We’re working on some things with the serving and trying to get the new kids comfortable.”
Junior outside hitter Emily Young, who saw action in the first and third matches, praised the team’s performance but also noted the importance of redirecting focus to the upcoming tournament.
“It was an excellent opening tournament for our team, and I think it was a great opportunity for us to test what we’ve been working on,” Young said. “But [Haley] is always looking toward the next game, so we can celebrate our win in the moment but we know we have worthy opponents to play.”
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