The USC women’s volleyball team escaped the Bay Area unscathed last week for the first time since 2006 and returns home with two critical victories against its strongest rivals.
After a grueling, five-set win over No. 5 Stanford on Wednesday night, the No. 8 Women of Troy (20-3, 10-2) turned away No. 27 California 3-1 (25-23, 24-26, 25-12, 25-23) Friday night to earn its fifth consecutive 20-win season.
“We’re tired because we had a five-set game [on Wednesday],” sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio told the Pac-12 Network after the game. “But we came really focused today and we’re just getting better.”
Combined with home victories against both teams in early October, the wins on the road represented USC’s third-ever regular season sweep of the Bay Area teams and first since 2003. The win over the Bears also improved USC’s all-time record versus Cal to 52-11.
“Anytime you can get out of the Bay Area with two wins is equal to teams coming to Los Angeles and beating USC and UCLA, which is tough to do,” USC head coach Mick Haley said. “Beating Stanford and Cal at their own places is a very hard task, so you have to be as pleased as you can be leaving here with two wins.”
Bricio unsurprisingly led the USC attack against the Bears with 14 kills and 13 digs, her fifth straight double-double. She also set USC’s single-season record for service aces (61) by converting five on the night in addition to four solo blocks and four block assists in a strong all-around performance.
“Today the hitting wasn’t my forte, but I can compensate with other things,” Bricio told the Pac-12 Network. “I’m really excited right now because I’m seeing the results of how I work.”
Freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu (13) and senior middle blocker Alexis Olgard (10) also struck double figures in kills, while senior libero and captain Natalie Hagglund posted another phenomenal defensive outing with 36 digs.
USC quickly jumped out to an 8-2 lead to open the match, but Cal won seven of the next nine to pull within one at 10-9. The Women of Troy recovered to go up 16-10 on a kill by junior middle blocker Hannah Schraer, but the Bears put together an impressive comeback and took a 22-20 lead. USC calmly fought back, however, as freshman outside hitter Elise Ruddins’ kill brought up set point before Nwanebu finished with a kill to seal the first set 25-23.
Cal regrouped in the second frame and went on a 6-1 run to go up 13-8. USC came back and eventually tied it at 17-all on a tandem block by Bricio and Schraer, then strung together four straight points to tie it at 24 after facing set point. But Cal claimed the set 26-24 when sophomore Lara Vukasovic knocked down a kill and then an ace to tie the match 1-1.
The third set, noted by Haley to be a team weakness, actually proved to be the easiest for the Women of Troy. A Schraer kill put USC up 10-5 after which the Women of Troy extended their lead to as much as 21-9 on a kill by senior outside hitter Sara Shaw. Back-to-back blocks by Bricio and Schraer introduced set point at 24-11. After conceding a point, USC clinched the set at 25-12 when Schraer punctuated the rally with a kill that gave the Women of Troy a 2-1 lead.
The fourth set was more contentious as the teams went back and forth. The Women of Troy saw their 11-7 lead diminish to 11-10 before going up 15-14. Consecutive kills by Olgard and Bricio put USC up 20-16 before Cal came back to whittle the deficit down to one at 23-22. Nwanebu then registered her 12th and 13th kills to end the match 25-23.
“I think we were upset that we gave away that second set after working so hard in the first set,” head coach Mick Haley said. “They stayed even with us all the way through but we were able to stay one good play ahead of them.”
Haley seemed proud of his team not only because of the wins, but also the grinding manner in which the Women of Troy claimed victory.
“It was a hard fought match and the girls got very tired, but we deserved to win both of these matches,” Haley said.
USC will return to the Galen Center this weekend to face Oregon Friday and Oregon State Sunday.
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