With eight games to go in conference play, No. 4 USC is at a crossroads: Should the team take its foot off the gas until the NCAA tournament or go pedal to the metal and try to run the table in the Pac-12? USC head coach Mick Haley hopes to find a happy medium as his team heads into the final month of the season.
“November is a critical month,” Haley said. “We want to be as good as we can be. We need to keep getting better. We have to take it one game at a time and we’re working on some new and different things.”
USC’s first match in November was against Cal last Friday evening. In that match, the Women of Troy (20-3, 10-2) saw their offense open up in new ways and ended up winning in four sets. Sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio recorded five service aces in the match to go with 25 total points and four total blocks, while senior libero Natalie Hagglund stole the show on defense with 36 digs. Both players went on to win Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week honors, respectively.
Next on USC’s radar will be their conference foes from the state of Oregon. The Women of Troy will take on the unranked Oregon Ducks this Friday before turning around to play the unranked Beavers of Oregon State on Sunday morning at the Galen Center. When USC last met with these opponents, they swept both matches on the road. This time around, they will need to be wary of falling into a trap against teams who are better than their records might indicate.
“Practice this week is going to be really important,” Hagglund said. “Doing all the little things and being able to execute is going to be really big. Oregon has some really good players; they have an All-American setter and outside hitter. But we really have to focus on ourselves. If we focus on us, we’ll be okay.”
Hagglund — herself a 2012 All-American — is referring to Oregon setter Lauren Plum and outside hitter Alaina Bergsma, the two most prominent players on a very talented Oregon roster. Since the teams last squared off, the Ducks (13-9, 6-6 Pac-12) have split six matches, winning three and losing three.
Resiliency will have to be the key for the Women of Troy. The Ducks often win matches in sweeps and are rarely swept when they lose, usually managing to clinch one or two sets before succombing to defeat.
Oregon State (9-14, 0-12), on the other hand, is having an extremely rough season in conference play. The Beavers have not won a match against a Pac-12 opponent, and their home loss to USC on Oct. 11 was just one of their 12 conference losses this season.
Friday’s match against the Ducks will begin at 7 p.m. at the Galen Center and will not be broadcast. Sunday will present the Women of Troy with a rare morning matchup, as they will take on the Beavers at 11 a.m. at the Galen Center; the match against Oregon State will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks.
Follow Kurt on Twitter @legen_daryKurt