With round robin tournaments and nonconference play in the books, the USC women’s volleyball team will begin Pac-12 play tonight when the team squares off against crosstown rival UCLA in what is primed to be a critical match to determine the conference hierarchy.
The No. 4-ranked Women of Troy (10-1) will put their four-match winning streak on the line against the No. 11-ranked Bruins (9-1) in the 100th all-time meeting between the two L.A. rivals.
USC head coach Mick Haley noted that though his team has been playing sound volleyball through its first 11 games, UCLA has a distinct advantage that his own squad will have to combat.
“What I’m expecting to see [in UCLA] is a team that’s been practicing for eight weeks without having to go to school,” Haley said, referencing the quarter system that UC schools use. “I would think they’ll be very much in system and comfortable with what they’re trying to do.”
The Women of Troy have stormed out of the gates to start the season, their only loss coming at the hands of the University of San Diego two weeks ago in their final nonconference tournament. UCLA has been equally impressive, also stringing together four straight victories after a road loss to Hawai’i.
After the loss to USD, the Women of Troy have been particularly dominant, losing only one set in their last four matches.
“We had two weeks of preseason practice before school started, and then we traveled three weekends in a row, so we’re still trying to utilize our talent correctly and get a rhythm going,” Haley said. “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to being the product we can be by the end of the season. UCLA should be far ahead of us and that’s the way it usually is with these quarter schools.”
The Women of Troy received a scare against Cal State Fullerton on Friday when junior setter Hayley Crone left the match in the third set after suffering an injury. Fortunately, Haley confirmed that she has recovered and will participate in tonight’s match.
“She got [hit] in the head and got into a collision after that with another player,” Haley said. “It scared her and she started to hyperventilate and they checked her out for a concussion, but she looks to be 100 percent and she had a good practice today.”
Haley’s team is coming off a strong performance against the Titans in which they cruised to a 3-0 victory despite Crone’s injury and inconsistent play in the third set. Though the Bruins represent a tough challenge, Haley is familiar with the Bruins’ system thanks to his 12 years of experience as USC’s head coach.
“They have senior [outside hitter] Kelly Reeves, who played on a China tour with me and did a nice job for us,” Haley said. “She’s a good passer and is a very experienced player who can be a swing hitter on either side. They’ve got two returning players in the middle and they count on junior [outside hitter] Karsta Lowe to be their top point-getter.”
Despite the success they’ve enjoyed in the beginning portion of the season, the Women of Troy will have much to work on to continue this success against strong Pac-12 opponents like the Bruins.
“We have to overcome quite a bit to stay with these quarter schools that don’t start school until late September,” Haley said. “UCLA has a system just like ours, but they look like they’re in a much better rhythm than we are now, so the concern is whether we can sustain a rhythm. They have some things that they’re working on, but we can’t worry too much about UCLA right now because we have to work on getting better every day.”
Tipoff for tonight’s game at the Galen Center is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
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