Khalia Lanier provides spark for USC

Tal Volk | Daily Trojan Freshman phenom · Khalia Lanier is already making a strong impact for the Women of Troy, leading the team with 151 kills through 11 matches.

Tal Volk | Daily Trojan
Freshman phenom · Khalia Lanier is already making a strong impact for the Women of Troy, leading the team with 151 kills through 11 matches.

It’s pretty strange to hear anyone mention Santa Claus in September, especially in Southern California. With a consistent sun striking campus daily, the holiday season feels much more like three years than three months away.

However, freshman Khalia Lanier, an outside hitter for the women’s volleyball team, was eager to chat about her special encounter with Old St. Nick just one year ago on her high school campus.

“There was one really sketchy day at school,” she said. “It was lunch time, and I saw Santa Claus come out of nowhere. [A woman] was in a Santa Claus shirt with a pencil skirt, heels, a beard and a Santa hat.”

Lanier’s confusion quickly transformed to joy.

“As she kept walking out, I realized, ‘Oh my god, that’s [Olympic volleyball medalist] April Ross,’” Lanier said. “[Ross] told me, ‘Khalia, I have a special gift for you,’ and then she pulled the Gatorade National Player of the Year trophy out of her Santa bag.”

In addition to being recognized as the top high school volleyball player in the nation last year by Gatorade, Lanier was also an Under Armour and Volleyball Magazine All-American during her career at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona. And while her accolades on the court may seem innumerable to some, she is not the most-decorated athlete within her own family.

Lanier’s father, Bob, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. After being selected first overall in the 1970 NBA Draft, Bob was an eight-time All-Star for the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks over the course of his 14-year playing career (1970-1984). Lanier’s No. 16 jersey has been retired by both the Pistons and Bucks’ organizations; it is also the number Khalia now wears as she plays for USC.

“I was just always around sports and competition,” Lanier said on her childhood. “My dad and I are both Virgos, so we have pretty similar personalities. Whether it was playing basketball during Christmas or volleyball, I was just always competing.”

Lanier left a home with a Hall of Fame father in Arizona for a university in USC that just had one of its most iconic figures depart: former outside hitter Samantha Bricio.

Bricio, a three-time All-American at USC, holds four major records for the women’s volleyball program: kills, attacks, service aces and points. Bricio, the 2015 Pac-12 Player of the Year, also holds the conference record for service aces.

“Living up to her legacy is definitely going to be hard,” Lanier said about Bricio. “But, I kind of just want to make a name for myself — not fill her spot, but create a different [legacy] for myself that could possibly rival hers.”

Upon arriving to USC, Lanier has almost instantly been inserted into the starting rotation and is now one of the leading performers for the Women of Troy.

Offensively, Lanier has been the cornerstone of the team’s attack, as she has led No. 21 USC in kills in seven of her first nine matches. In USC’s most recent victory over Maryland on Sept. 16, she tallied a team-high 13 kills. Lanier has recorded five double-doubles on the young season. Overall, she leads the team in kills and service aces.

“As a freshman, people really don’t expect you to have much of an impact,” Lanier said. “[People] want to make excuses when they don’t play well, but I’m one of those people who says, ‘I want to be good right away, and I want to fill Samantha Bricio’s role right away as a freshman.’”

Lanier’s freshman campaign got off to a slow start this season when USC (8-3) dropped its first three matches of the season — a losing streak that included the first loss to UC Irvine in program history. The Women of Troy have since rebounded from their opening struggles, winning their last eight matches since Aug. 27.

“It definitely started off bumpy,” Lanier said about this season. “We were trying a lot of different things with the offense. I definitely think our chemistry has been improving a lot over the past three weeks.”

As a true freshman, Lanier has set high expectations for herself and her team.

“I want to be the best player I can be, “ she said. “I want to be an All-American as a freshman, I want to win freshman of the year. I have big goals for myself, but they all go towards the ultimate team goal.”

As the team navigates through the remainder of its regular season and into the postseason, one can bet that Lanier is striving for another visit from Santa this holiday season, this time, with an NCAA trophy in the bag.