The No. 7 USC women’s volleyball team will head to the Bubly Water Invitational Tournament in Gainesville, Fla. to take on No. 4 Florida Friday.
After celebrating their Trojan Invitational championship last weekend, the Trojans now face their first road test of the season. Playing away from home is always challenging; doing so against the runner-ups in last season’s NCAA championship is even more so. Though Florida, like USC, has a roster full of freshmen this year, those players have proved impressive early on. Freshman outside hitter Thayer Hall was named SEC Freshman of the Week for her performance in the Gators’ second place VERT challenge finish last weekend, recording 41 kills and 21 digs in the two games played and earning All-Tournament honors. Florida also has the luxury of being the tournament hosts and playing in front of its home crowd, something USC enjoyed in its first three games.
That being said, head coach Brent Crouch appears to be taking a larger perspective in terms of what the next few games for his squad will mean.
“These players can be fantastic. They don’t know how good they can be,” Crouch said on USC’s Trojans Live radio station. “If you hold this mirror up to them, ‘This is what you can be,’ when you do X, Y and Z, they’ll be with you. I think we’ve got an incredible group of players that are playing right now. The talent level is there and the athleticism is there for this team to do really well, but I think we’re gonna unleash them once they get some new habits in place.”
Florida, much like USC, was pushed to five sets in its championship game last week, falling 10-15 in the final frame. However, each frame was relatively close (18-25, 25-21, 25-21, 21-25, 10-15), as they were in USC’s match (28-26, 23-25, 25-22, 21-25, 18-16). Both teams should be feeling confident heading into the match, with Florida hoping to take the next step and close out tight games and USC attempting to build upon the momentum of its three-game winning streak.
Crouch will look for the strong play and leadership of star junior outside hitter Khalia Lanier, who earned Trojan Invitational MVP honors and sophomore outside hitter Brooke Botkin, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, to set the tone for his young group in a hostile environment. Freshman setter Raquel Lázaro, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week, will also have to keep up with the Gators’ dynamic duo of freshman Marlie Monserez and redshirt senior Allie Monserez, who combined for 57 assists in their last game against Texas. Crouch certainly isn’t letting last week’s success get to the team’s head.
“It was great to have a great weekend right away, but there’s a lot of room to grow with this group this year,” Crouch said. “I expect us to be clicking at a much higher level at the end of the season.”