This week, the No. 13 women’s volleyball team will travel up to Eugene, Ore., to face No. 24 Oregon on Wednesday before battling No. 19 UCLA at the Galen Center on Saturday in the team’s final home match of the regular season.
The Women of Troy (21-8, 13-5 Pac-12) started out the season unranked and were tabbed to finish sixth in the conference by Pac-12 coaches. At 13-5, they’re sitting in second place in the conference. If they can pick up wins against the Ducks (16-10, 9-9 Pac-12) and the Bruins (17-10, 10-8 Pac-12), second place is as good as theirs with Washington and Utah tied for third at 12-6.
Oregon is 11-4 at home this season, and USC is 8-5 on the road. Going into Wednesday’s match, the Ducks carry a three-match losing streak, and while the Women of Troy did have a five-match win streak, it came to an end against No. 4 Stanford last weekend. The team rebounded by sweeping Cal two days later.
To pick up a win in Eugene, USC must stop senior outside hitter Taylor Agost. Against both Washington schools, Agost put up a team-high 36 kills while recording a .289 hitting percentage. Her 25 kills against the Cougars was a season high. She is the team’s go-to hitter, with 288 kills on the season. Right behind Agost is sophomore middle blocker Ronika Stone, who had a season-high 18 kills against the Cougars and 25 kills on the weekend.
After playing the Ducks, the Women of Troy will head back to Los Angeles and the friendly confines of the Galen Center. USC has lost its final regular season match to the Bruins in the last three seasons.
But earlier this season, the Women of Troy opened up conference play with a riveting five-set victory over the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. After falling behind 2-1, then-No. 21 USC won the final two sets to top No. 11 UCLA
(25-21, 15-25, 18-25, 25-21, 15-11). It was the fourth time in the last six matches between the rivals to go five sets.
Senior opposite hitter Brittany Abercrombie led all hitters with a then-career-high 18 kills. She topped that for a career-high 19 kills against Washington in October. Sophomore outside hitter Khalia Lanier was right behind her with 17 kills. UCLA dominated defensively at the net, putting up 11 blocks to USC’s four, but despite the strong defense, the Women of Troy produced a .251 hitting percentage.
UCLA will be coming off a Wednesday match against Oregon State. Last weekend, the Bruins split two matches in Northern California, losing to Stanford in five sets but sweeping Cal.
USC is 10-1 at home this season, while UCLA is 7-6 on the road. To snatch a win over their crosstown rival, the Women of Troy will have to limit the Bruins’ strong offense led by senior outside hitter Reily Buechler, freshman outside hitter Jenny Mosser, sophomore middle blocker Madeleine Gates and freshman outside hitter Mac May. All four attackers have more than 240 kills on the season. Buechler, with 342 kills, is the only player with more than 300 kills. Mosser is close, sitting at 294 kills on the season.
USC has three hitters — Lanier, Abercrombie, senior outside hitter Niki Withers — with more than 265 kills on the season. Lanier leads the Women of Troy with 378, followed by Abercrombie’s 354 kills.
Wins against the Ducks and Bruins should set up the Women of Troy in strong position for the NCAA Tournament. The selection show will take place Nov. 26. The road to Kansas City for the national championship starts Nov. 30 with first-round matches.
First serve against the Bruins will be at 7 p.m. at the Galen Center Saturday.