The No. 21 USC women’s volleyball team (9-3, 1-0 Pac-12) kicked off its conference play with a dramatic five-set upset (25-21,15-25, 18-25, 25-21,15-11) over No. 11 UCLA (7-3, 0-1 Pac-12) at Pauley Pavilion. It was USC’s first victory at Pauley since 2015, and the fourth time in the last six meetings between the rivals that they went to five sets.
On the upset, head coach Mick Haley pointed out that the team made a statement in its first conference match of the season.
“It’s a really big deal, especially since UCLA is so highly respected in the polls,” Haley said. “Maybe some people will start looking at our team now.”
It was almost as if USC robbed the season opener right from under UCLA, as the Bruins put up a higher hitting percentage (.301 to .251), more kills (66 to 64) and more blocks (11.0 to 4.0).
USC came out attacking from the backline. In the first set, the Trojans put up three service aces with only one serving error. Sophomore outside hitter Khalia Lanier put up two aces and junior middle Brittany Welsh also went 3-for-3 in the first set. Her consistent attack from the middle kept UCLA on its toes, respecting the Trojans’ varied attack.
The Women of Troy came out firing. Catching the Bruins a bit off-guard, USC was able to snag the 25-21 set win over UCLA in the first set.
UCLA took advantage of USC’s break in tip coverage to build a lead in the second set. After putting up a .242 hitting percentage in the first set, the Bruins bounced back to a .395 hitting percentage in the second. USC, on the other hand, dropped from a .286 hitting percentage to a .243 hitting percentage. The Bruins also recorded an ace of their own while USC did not have any. UCLA took a steady handle on the second set, grabbing a 10-point win over the Trojans, 25-15.
USC rebounded early in the third set, taking a 5-1 lead over the Bruins. UCLA didn’t gain its first lead of the set until going up 7-6, but a kill by Welsh tied the score back up for USC.
USC gave up the lead early, but slowly chipped away at the lead that UCLA built. A kill from senior opposite hitter Brittany Abercrombie put the Trojans within three, and the Bruins called a timeout. To get within tying the Bruins, the Trojans went back to serving aggressively and tightened up their defense. UCLA didn’t look bothered at all coming out of their timeout, taking a 19-15 lead.
Then, the Bruins broke out on a 4-1 with no signs of stopping. Haley called his second timeout of the set, attempting to put some brakes on UCLA’s run. Reily Buechler and Madeleine Gates left no space over the net for senior opposite Niki Withers, completely stuffing her attack for the 25-18 set victory.
The fourth grew into a dramatic set. What began as a near formality for USC to force the fifth set turned into a near comeback for the Bruins before USC buckled down and scored their last couple of points. Abercrombie nailed down a kill in the center of UCLA’s side to pick up the set win, 25-21, for USC.
In the fourth and fifth sets, USC fell into a rhythm. After pulling ahead to a 7-1 lead in the fifth, USC never let UCLA pull closer than three points to tying. Through the fourth and fifth sets, USC held the lead the entirety of the sets.
The Women of Troy’s late success came from keeping the ball in bounds and feeding workhorses Abercrombie and Lanier, who had 18 and 17 kills, respectively. Lanier and Abercrombie were responsible for eight kills — more than half the team’s points — in the final set.
Abercrombie dominated for USC, recording a team-high in kills and a .450 hitting percentage. The senior opposite only had one hitting error on the night. Junior outside hitter Alyse Ford, who didn’t start the match, made her presence known on the court throughout the fourth and fifth sets.
“Every girl on the court is there for each other,” Abercrombie said. “We have each other’s backs.”
Abercrombie credited the support throughout her team for their overall success.
“It just shows that we can fight so hard as a team,” Abercrombie said. “We just want to win so badly, and we proved that we could do it.”
With the win over UCLA, USC moves to 32-10 in all-time conference openers — 12-5 under Haley. This victory also snapped a three-match losing streak for USC against its rivals.
USC will next play at home on Sunday, their first time since August 26th, against Oregon State (10-3, 0-1 Pac-12) at 1 p.m.