The USC women’s volleyball team will look to improve from its 16-16 overall record from 2014, one of the program’s more disappointing campaigns in recent history.
In 2015, the Women of Troy were tabbed to finish fifth in the preseason Pac-12 Coaches Poll, though they, along with head coach Mick Haley, will try to prove they are capable of finishing toward the top half of the conference.
The Women of Troy are also one of a conference record nine Pac-12 teams ranked in the AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll with USC slotted at No. 22
USC will have some big shoes to fill, especially with the departure of first-team All-American and 2013 AVCA National Freshman of the Year Ebony Nwanebu, who opted to transfer closer to home and play for Texas for her final two years.
Experience was something that the Women of Troy lacked last season, as 11 of the 16 players listed on the 2014 roster were underclassmen. In 2015, however, USC has that experience, returning five starters, including senior captain and All-American Samantha Bricio.
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter enters her final year at USC hoping to add a national championship to her already star-studded résumé. The soon to be four-year starter from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, is coming off a 2014 campaign in which she was named to the AVCA All-America 2nd Team, AVCA Pacific South All-Region Team and Pac-12 All-Conference Team. Bricio was the only player who started all 32 matches for USC last season, leading the team with 514 kills and 4.28 kills per set on a .257 hitting percentage, while adding 2.88 digs per set. The senior will look to have an even greater impact during her final season in Trojan uniform.
The only other senior on the squad is 6-foot-4 middle blocker Alicia Ogoms, who earned a Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention nod after averaging 1.60 kills per set and 0.98 blocks per set. Ogoms, always a steady force at the net for USC, set career highs in all statistical categories last season, leading the team in blocks and coming in second on the team in hitting percentage (.363).
The class of 2017 is headlined by a trio of juniors who spent the last season gaining valuable experience playing in expanded roles on the court.
One of those experienced returnees is libero Taylor Whittingham, whose emergence last season from serving sub to defensive stalwart in the back row anchored the Women of Troy’s defense Whittingham, a 5-foot-8 junior from Rancho Santa Margarita, California, had some big shoes to fill after USC’s career digs leader and First-Team All-American Natalie Hagglund graduated in 2013. After playing in all 32 matches last season, Whittingham led both the team and the Pac-12 conference with 4.97 digs per set.
Another player that saw increased playing time last season was 5-foot-10 junior setter Alice Pizzasegola. The Italian import also played in all 32 matches last season and led USC with 6.13 assists per set.
Perhaps USC’s biggest secret weapon this season comes in the form of 6-foot-3 junior outside hitter Elise Ruddins. A versatile player with a good understanding of the game, Ruddins will look to have a breakout season. Ruddins was rated the No. 2 ranked high school recruit in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com in 2013, but injuries and inconsistent play the last two years have hindered her performance. But the 2014 Pac-12 Academic Honorable Mention honoree did secure the second starting outside hitter position early on last season and started 19 out of 22 matches, averaging 1.83 kills per set which was good enough for fourth on the team. After a healthy offseason and with more confidence under her belt, Ruddins will look to make a big leap in her third year at Troy and solidify her spot in the Trojan rotation.
The Women of Troy will also welcome five highly touted freshmen to USC this fall. The 2015 incoming freshman class was well regarded, with three of the five players in the Top 50 Senior Aces coming out of high school.
Headlining this talented group of freshmen is 6-0 setter Baylee Johnson. The Dayton, Ohio native played for Northern Kentucky Volleyball Club and was the No. 28-ranked Senior Ace by PrepVolleyball.com out of Centerville HS, where she was named to all-league, all-state and all-region teams throughout her prep career. The dynamic setter, who brings a physical presence at the net, enrolled early at USC in early 2015 and has been competing with the Women of Troy throughout spring training.
The highest-ranked recruit of the class is outside hitter Alyse Ford, who came in as the No. 16-ranked prep recruit out of Mater Dei HS in Santa Ana, California where she was named the 2014 CIF Co-Player of the Year. Ford is a high-flying attacker and could play a significant role in the Trojan lineup this season, whether it be hitting in the front or out of the back row.
Ultimately, with five new freshmen and one transfer, there are many new faces on this revamped Women of Troy squad. But with a breadth of experience in the veteran players and the fresh energy of these newcomers, look for the USC women’s volleyball team to jump back into the national spotlight this fall and make big strides in the 2015 season.
USC will open up the 2015 season by hosting a pair of non-conference tournaments, including the season-opening Women of Troy Baden Invitational Aug. 28-29 at the Galen Center. The Women of Troy will kick off the season in a rematch against North Carolina on Friday, Aug. 28.