Despite a gloomy and rainy day at Merle Norman Stadium, the grind continued for the No. 4-ranked Trojans.
The team had just returned from the Outrigger Hawai’i Invitational in Honolulu, Hawai’i where they won three out of five matches, defeating Nebraska and Grand Canyon, while falling to Hawaii twice. While the team made no excuses for being unable to close the deal, it was evident that playing five matches in two days with limited rest on the road was a challenge.
“While our team is fit and in-shape, it was difficult playing Nebraska and Hawaii back-to-back on short rest,” said head coach Anna Collier, whose record now stands at 157-22 (.867) in her seventh year leading the team. “I would have like to have at least one match rest in between.”
USC had played Nebraska at 11:30 a.m. before having to play Hawaii immediately after at 12:45 p.m.
Up next for the Trojans is the Pac-12 South Invitational, where they will take on the No. 16-ranked Cal (11-1), No. 11 Arizona (9-3), No.14 Stanford (8-4) and currently unranked Arizona State. Of the four teams, USC has only faced off against Arizona State this season, whom they defeated 3-2 at the Sun Devil Challenge in Tempe, Ariz. USC holds a combined 19-0 record against the four opponents they will be matched up with this weekend. Despite their historical dominance against these Pac-12 opponents, the Trojans won’t be taking any of the matches lightly.
“We’ve been slapped in the face this season,” Collier said. “We’ve woken up now and we understand that you can never take any team for granted, ever. When you win three straight titles, the target is huge on your back. We are some teams’ national championship.”
One of the bright spots for the Trojans thus far and a duo that USC will continue to lean on for the remainder of the season is the pairing of seniors Jo Kremer and Jenna Belton. The roommates and close friends currently lead the Trojans with 14 wins thus far and play extensively on the 4th and 5th courts.
“We’ve known each other for all four years and we’ve been a pair for two years now,” Belton said. “I think knowing each other so well makes us work.”
As one of the leaders of the team, Belton mentioned that the team makes it a point of emphasis to not “dwell on what went wrong but instead focus on what we can do well on moving forward to make it better.”
The Trojans will face the California Bears first on Saturday at 10 a.m. followed by the Arizona State Sun Devils at 2 p.m. The following day, they’ll face the Arizona Wildcats at 10 a.m. before concluding the invitational by squaring off against the Stanford Cardinal at 1 p.m. All the matches will take place in Santa Monica, Calif.
Following the Pac-12 South Invitational, USC will compete in the Pepperdine Invitational in Malibu, Calif. on March 31. In the tournament they will face off against Saint Mary’s, No. 15 Loyola Marymount and No. 1 Pepperdine.