In what was potentially the biggest match of the season for the women’s beach volleyball team, a new-look USC squad took on the No. 2-ranked Pepperdine Waves at Merle Norman Stadium Tuesday, falling short 2-3.
The dual opened up with an almost brand new pair, senior Jenna Belton and freshman Haley Hallgren, taking on the dominant Pepperdine duo of Skylar Caputo and Alexis Filippone.
On paper, the two pairs were total opposites. Hallgren and Belton had only played once together prior to Tuesday, while Caputo and Filippone came in with a nearly impeccable 20-1 record. Early on, Belton and Hallgren held their own, keeping the first set close at 11-10 before falling 21-19.
In the second set, Caputo and Filippone showed their dominance by jumping early over USC with a score of 12-4. Though Belton and Hallgren fought back to make it 13-8, the chemistry between Caputo and Filippone proved too much to overcome and Pepperdine took its first points of the dual by winning the set 21-12.
On the fifth court, graduate transfer Alexandra Poletto and junior Katrina Kernochan took on Maddie Dilfer and Nikki Lyons of Pepperdine. Like their counterparts on the fourth court, Kernochan and Poletto fought hard in the first set and gained a 18-17 lead, but were unable to seize the moment and the Waves used a 4-1 run to take the opener 21-17.
Much like the first set, Kernochan and Poletto found themselves in a good position tied at 16-16. Despite the effort, Lyons and Dilfer were simply too much to handle and took the second set 21-19. A common theme of Poletto and Kernochan’s matches is the tendency for opponents to target Kernochan on serves. At one point, Kernochan had received 23 serves while Poletto only received two.
After the dual, head coach Anna Collier hinted that there could be some more big changes at the fourth and fifth slots for USC moving forward. She had already decided to make some “shake-ups” after last week’s UCLA loss. After losing both courts Tuesday, Collier said that another change could be expected.
With their backs against the wall again, the Women of Troy looked to their first three pairs to ignite a comeback.
Once again, the first slot pair of junior Abril Bustamante and freshman Tina Graudina proved to be a bright spot for USC. Taking on Corinne Quiggle and Deahna Kraft of Pepperdine, Graudina and Bustamante made their presences felt early by going up 12-8 and taking the first set 21-17. In the second set, Quiggle and Kraft were unable to handle the onslaught of powerful shots coming from USC’s most consistent pair and the Women of Troy were able to get their first point of the dual off a 21-15 second set win.
Graudina attributed their success to an “opposites attract” type of relationship.
“I couldn’t have hoped for a better partner,” she said of Bustamante. “She is always excited and I have to calm her down sometimes but that’s why it works well.”
USC would pick up their second point of the dual on the third court with senior Terese Cannon and freshman Sammy Slater taking on Heidi Dyer and Gigi Hernandez of Pepperdine.
Cannon and Slater came out firing early, taking an 11-5 lead early, winning the first set 21-15. In the second set, Roh and Bauer responded by going on a run of their own and jumping on USC 9-12 early in the second set. With their backs against the wall, Cannon and Slater fought back, going on a 12-7 run the rest of the way to tie the dual for USC.
With the dual tied at 2, all eyes turned to the second slot where junior Brianna Sizemore and sophomore Joy Dennis squared off against Madalyn Roh and Brook Bauer. Early on, it was Pepperdine who seemed able to handle the pressure, taking the first set 21-13 despite the match being close at 13-10 early on. In an intense second set, both sides traded blows, at one point tying at 19. Eventually it was Roh and Bauer who would finish strong and secure the dual for Pepperdine by winning 21-19.
With the Women of Troy unable to consistently defeat elite teams, Collier said she would continue to find the “missing piece” for USC as the regular season winds down.
“We don’t get in the flow to win when we need to,” Collier said. “When we need to make a push on the other team, we rock on our heels. If you let these good teams know that you are rocking, they will push you all the way back.”
The Women of Troy will travel to Seattle this weekend for the Pac-12 North Invitational where they will take on the Cal Bears, Oregon Ducks, Stanford Cardinal and Washington Huskies.