The USC women’s volleyball team will open up its season this weekend during the Community Bankers Volleyball Classic in Stockton, California. Though the USC roster is younger than last year, USC will still be seen as the heavy favorite.
Record-wise, USC will have the upper hand on the other three teams competing in this two-day tournament: Rider, Arkansas-Little Rock and the University of the Pacific, which is hosting the event.
Last year, USC fell just short of a national title, but they still won an impressive 29 games. Arkansas-Little Rock had the next best overall win total of all the teams with 20.
Similarly, USC also had the least number of losses last year with only six overall losses, which is impressive considering the USC women’s volleyball team played more games last year than that of any opponent it will face this weekend.
The USC women’s volleyball roster will be different this year with a much younger team, but there are a few big name players for the Trojans returning this season that will help the team in its quest for a national title.
USC’s second-best player in kills and points last year, sophomore Ebony Nwanebu, is still sidelined due to injury for now, but she will definitely be a big boost for the team upon her return.
Until then, USC women’s volleyball coach Mick Haley is looking at players like junior outside hitter Samantha Bricio to lead the team. Bricio recorded the most kills and the most points last season for the Women of Troy, and says she now has to step up as a leader for her team, but also gave props to the freshmen on the team for their progress.
“The only thing I have to do is have a bigger leadership role on the team right now,” Bricio said. “The freshmen are doing a really good job right now.”
Still, Haley admitted that his team is younger than last year and that they will need to improve in this first tournament. Haley is already using certain tactics to accomplish that goal.
“We spent about 6-7 weeks already working on a couple of things,” Haley said. “We really need to nurture and bring these young kids along and as long as we can help keep their self-confidence and their focus and they can get adjusted to school here in the next 3-4 weeks while we travel and play, then I believe that this is a special team.”
Haley also said that over the coming weeks he will be looking for his servers and blockers to follow the game plan.
The newcomers to the team will be a crucial factor in determining this season’s outcome. USC freshman middle blocker Jordan Dunn described the transition from high school volleyball to a top collegiate volleyball program at USC.
“It’s an amazing feeling like being able to come on this team, because they’re all such amazing athletes and amazing people,” Dunn said. “I’m just trying to work hard, gel with the team, work my hardest during every practice and see where I can fit in.”
In terms of strategy for the tournament, Haley said he plans to temper fan expectations.
“We have goals that are different than the expectations that you may hear out there on the social media,” Haley said. “We know exactly where we are. This tournament allows us the opportunity to play somebody new that we haven’t played. We feel we have good talent, but we we’re not taking any of these teams for granted.”
Considering last year’s stats, Haley may very well be right.
Rider sophomore Kaitlyn Griffin wreaked havoc last year, leading her team with 249 kills and was second in hitting percentage at .312. Rider senior Ashlee Amatulli and junior Brandie Hill were a dynamic duo in the assist column in 2013, racking up 972 assists combined last season.
USC will also face some stiff competition from Arkansas-Little Rock players Edina Begic, Sonja Milanovic, and Adisa Hodzic. Finishing first, second and third, respectively, in kills and points for Arkansas-Little Rock last season, these players will test the USC defense. In addition, Begic and Milanovic finished with 582 digs combined in 2013, so the USC offense will have their attacks strongly contested as well.
The Pacific Tigers will be a good match-up with USC, despite their record last season. They averaged 13.21 kills per set while USC was slightly better at 14.9 kills per set. The USC women’s volleyball team also had better numbers than the Pacific in blocks per set and assists per set, but these averages were also very close. Adding in the home court advantage for the Pacific, the Tigers will likely give USC a run for their money.
After the tournament, USC will be part of two more tournaments before they actually begin playing standalone games.
Bricio and Dunn commented that this season will not be easy, especially since there is a lot of travel and tournament play involved.
Haley also said his team has one of the hardest overall schedules this year, but he still believes he has a great team that will turn into something even greater in the coming weeks.
“They’ve already shown their volleyball IQ and intellect,” Haley said. “I have every reason to believe that we’ll have a team that continues to get better each month.”