No. 1 USC prepares for another road trip

After back-to-back successful tournaments in the Midwest, the USC women’s volleyball team will return to Southern California for one final road tune-up before its long-awaited home opener next week.

The Women of Troy will take on No. 9 University of San Diego Friday night in what both coaches and players are billing as one of the toughest matchups of the season. They will then play UC Santa Barbara and Eastern Washington in a Saturday doubleheader that will conclude their opening slate of tournaments away from Galen Center.

After an impressive sweep in their three opening matches, the Women of Troy turned in three strong performances against stiff competition this weekend, turning back TCU and Marquette Friday and knocking off Northern Illinois 3-1 Saturday.

“It’s just another test for our team to go on back-to-back road trips in different time zones, but we played some good teams and some top-ranked teams, which is good for us,” senior libero Natalie Hagglund said. “I think we played very well. It was an exhausting trip for us, but we proved that we can play well under adversity and tiring conditions.”

USC head coach Mick Haley has always been one to stress improvement over accomplishment during his tenure at USC, but even he lavished praise on the team’s developing dynamic between the youngsters and the veterans.

“I’m very pleased with the freshmen because they’ve been everything as advertised. They are learning great amounts,” Haley said. “Our seniors are not playing at the level that I know that they can play at, but they’ve taken on a lot of responsibility to get the younger kids straightened out, so the hope is that they’ll get better.”

The Women of Troy were powered offensively by star sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio, who captured tournament MVP honors with a combined 41 kills. She was complemented nicely on the outside by freshman Laguna Niguel native Elise Ruddins, who recorded 10 kills against TCU and eight against Northern Illinois.

The Women of Troy have also benefited from youth at the setter position, where freshman Alice Pizzasegola has performed well in splitting time with junior Hayley Crone.

“Chemistry is so important, and it’s been going incredibly smoothly so far,” said junior middle blocker Hannah Schraer, who recorded 11 kills in the three matches. “We mix very seamlessly, so that’s what makes our team special.”

The Women of Troy have brought home easy wins in each of their matches so far, as none of their six opponents have even taken them to a fifth set. They’ll face a formidable opponent in San Diego, however, which played itself into the top 10 this weekend, and Haley expects tough matches against UC Santa Barbara and Eastern Washington as well.

“They’re all good ball-control teams. San Diego is playing at a very high level efficiency-wise, and Santa Barbara is making a step up in their play,” Haley said. “Even Eastern Washington has improved, and they’re similar to the teams we were playing this last weekend. I think all three of these teams provide top-four challenges.”

While his team has made few mistakes in jumping out to a 6-0 start so far, Haley emphasizes that the upcoming games will allow the Women of Troy to address its weaknesses, rather than capitalize upon its strengths.

“I think that this is going to be what we’re looking for — to expose certain things that we’re not doing well enough that we can focus on after this weekend, or to see if we’re improving on the things we’ve been working on,” Haley said. “One of the things that we want to see is if we are constantly getting some improvement in our system, so I’m excited to see how that pans out.”

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