In the midst of what USC head coach Mick Haley is calling the toughest stretch of the season, the USC women’s volleyball team fell 3-1 (23-25, 25-23, 19-25, 22-24) to the University of Washington on Sunday, losing for the second time in three matches after an 11-match winning streak. USC suffered its first home loss of the season and snapped a 16-match win streak at the Galen Center, with the team’s previous defeat coming in a 3-0 loss to Oregon on Sept. 21, 2012.
Haley, who noted the particular importance of serving and passing in games against the Huskies (17-1, 9-1 Pac-12), didn’t hesitate in identifying Washington as the better team.
“They won the serving and passing war,” Haley said. “They served better and tougher. Our offense was okay. We still had enough kills to win. It was our inability to keep them off the net to help our defense.”
Sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio led USC (18-3, 8-2) with 16 kills, but hit just .222 and committed eight errors. Senior outside hitter Sara Shaw recorded a season-high 14 kills, and senior middle blocker Alexis Olgard also hit double digits with 12. The USC defense, however, failed to contain the Washington attack, as outside hitter Krista Vansant notched a backbreaking 22 kills.
“We didn’t have enough fight, and I think we would have been able to outlast Washington if we pushed them to a fifth set,” senior libero Natalie Hagglund said. “Like I said last week, we need to do the little things right, like passing and proper setting. We need to focus on playing good volleyball and dominating the basic skills.”
Both teams played a hotly contested first set, and USC appeared to be pulling away after going up 20-16 on an Olgard kill. But the Huskies stormed back and tied the game 23-all before a kill and USC error sealed the first set for the visitors 25-23.
After dropping the opening set for just the third time all season, the Women of Troy recovered in the second. USC turned a 19-17 deficit into a 20-19 lead with a three-point run punctuated by Bricio’s sole ace of the match. Shaw brought up set point with a kill, after which Olgard knocked down a kill to conclude the frame 25-23.
The Women of Troy failed to sustain any momentum coming out of the break, however, as Washington posted leads of 11-6 and then 16-9 in the third set. USC never came within less than five points of the lead after that, and Washington ended it on a Vansant kill to go up 2-1.
USC looked determined to send the match to a tiebreaker as they stormed ahead 10-4 on a Shaw ace and Olgard kill. The Huskies, however, stunned everyone in the building with 10 consecutive points and went up 14-10. A Bricio kill later put USC behind 20-21, but Washington ended any hopes of a comeback and clinched the match on another kill from Vansant to give USC its third loss of the season.
“It was a strange match because we should have won the first set and they should have won the second set. Neither happened,” Haley said. “We made seven errors between points 17 and 25, and that’s how we lost [the first set]. We didn’t come out with any intensity for the third set, and that’s a big problem for us.”
The Women of Troy will have little time to dwell on the loss, as they head north to take on Stanford on Wednesday and California on Friday. As Haley noted, this stretch is especially tough for the players who are as focused on academics as the game itself.
“If we don’t learn from this, we could lose three in a row here,” Haley said. “We won’t have any chance to practice for Stanford or Cal because we need to recover. I have to give them time to study and recover as well. As much as they hate losing and as much as I hate losing, it’s an opportunity to look at our errors. We gave Washington so many unforced errors in that match.”
Wednesday’s match against Stanford is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.
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