Undefeated Women of Troy to face No. 3 Pepperdine

For a second-straight week, the USC sand volleyball team sits atop the AVCA national rankings. The team added  two more wins to their record on Thursday, defeating Loyola Marymount and Concordia in a doubleheader at Merle Norman Stafium.

The Women of Troy look to ride that momentum into the month of April against a familiar foe in No. 3-ranked Pepperdine.

Putting their undefeated record on the line, the No. 1-ranked Women of Troy (14-0) face a tough test on Saturday when they travel to Zuma Beach to take on the Waves in a clash between two of the best teams in the nation.

Off to their best start in program history, the Women of Troy are hoping to maintain their unblemished record with a good showing against the rival Waves. The two teams are certainly no strangers to one another, either, as the weekend matchup will be the schools’ 10th meeting all-time. Pepperdine holds the 7-2 advantage in those matches, but the streaking Women of Troy are looking to add a win to their own column and change the tide.

According to head coach Anna Collier, the team is looking to spoil the Waves’ perfect record at home as well.

“We’re really good at home here at Merle Norman because it’s our stadium and we’re used to it, so it’ll be tough to play at Pepperdine. In fact, I don’t think anyone has ever beaten Pepperdine at Pepperdine because it’s at a windy beach,” said Collier. “We got some practice time at the beach this week and trained for what we’re going to do when we do face them, and I think that’s going to give us a little more of an opportunity to beat them on their home court.”

Pepperdine, the defending national champion and losers of only five total dual matches in four years, are looking to avenge their loss to USC less than two weeks ago. Back on March 24, the Women of Troy handed Pepperdine a 3-2 loss at Merle Norman Stadium, and in that match, all three of USC’s lower flights produced points that would end up securing the victory.

The sophomore tandem of Allie Wheeler and Nicolette Martin scored USC’s first point at court four, while the senior-freshman pairing of Bria Russ and Jenna Belton at the five spot added a second point to the team total. USC’s top two flights of sophomores Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes and Sophie Bukovec and Alexa Strange both went down to the Waves in close sets, leaving it all up to the seniors at court three to pull out a victory. The No. 3 pair of Eve Ettinger and Meg Norton eventually pulled off a thrilling three-set victory over Pepperdine’s Emily Cook and Delaney Knudsen to seal the 3-2 dual victory for the Women of Troy.

With that win two weeks ago, USC has become the proverbial “giant-slayers” of the powerhouse Pepperdine program as of late. Only four teams have been able to beat the Waves, with USC being the only team to defeat Pepperdine more than once. After going undefeated in 2012, the two-time national champion Waves lost just one dual in 2013.

The Waves have been in a bit of a slump after losing two of their last three duals, the first being the 3-2 loss to USC and the other being a 3-2 loss to Florida International last week. With a loss against Hawai’i earlier in the season, three losses on the record for Pepperdine is uncommon, and the Waves are looking to get back to their winning ways with this match against USC.

Moreover, the Women of Troy have contributed to two of Pepperdine’s five total losses in program history, and with a win on Saturday, USC hopes to maintain a high level of play as it heads into the end of the regular season.

After playing six dual matches in a five-day span last week and playing two more duals on Thursday, the Women of Troy have finally gotten through the bulkiest part of their schedule. According to Collier, trips to Hawaii and Arizona, coupled with the five other matches held at Merle Norman Stadium, have been a great way to test the team.

“We’ve played a lot of duals last week and this week we’ve been resting because the girls were exhausted,” Collier said. “But we’ve had Monday and Wednesday off and worked on the technical things, which is what we need to do when we face Pepperdine.”

After its match against the Waves, USC will have just four more dual matches this season before they head to the AVCA Championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama, in early May. Though the ultimate goal is to win a national championship, Collier wants her team to remain focused.

“I’d almost rather not be 14-0 because it is so difficult to sustain that kind of winning, but we’re just going to keep working on the little things and improving with each match, so we want to take another step and work harder,” Collier said. “It’s a new challenge for the athletes, and it refreshes them so we can maintain that winning streak. Perhaps that’s how we can keep this streak going.”

The dual match between the Women of Troy and Pepperdine on Saturday will tip off at 10 a.m. at Zuma Beach.