One of college athletics’ most storied rivalries is right around the corner, as the women’s volleyball team takes on UCLA Wednesday in its conference opener at the Galen Center.
The Trojans have opened conference play against the Bruins for the past three years. Last year, they clinched a 3-2 win at Pauley Pavilion, but fell to the Bruins at home to close out the regular season. Now, the Trojans have a chance to defend the Galen Center court once again.
“Being at home after being gone for three weeks, combined with opening Pac-12, combined with UCLA, I don’t know if you could line up more things in a row that could produce energy,” head coach Brent Crouch said.
No. 14 USC has already faced six other ranked opponents, so going head-to-head with No. 17 UCLA is nothing new for the team. Out of those ranked opponents, the Trojans have defeated four, including marquee wins over No. 5 Kentucky (3-1) and No. 4 Florida (3-1). Despite the wins, the coaching staff is still prepared to help contain the teams’ emotions against their rivals. They believe they will be able to channel that energy into a victory.
“We’ve been practicing on Galen floor for the last two days and you can just feel the vibe starting to build,” Crouch said. “Players are really excited to be home.”
But beating the Bruins will be no easy task. On top of the emotions surrounding the crosstown rivalry game, the Trojans also have to find a way to answer the offensive force UCLA will present. UCLA outside hitter Mac May is averaging 3.37 kills per set while junior middle blocker Madeleine Gates boasts a hitting percentage of .358. Part of USC’s defense might be found in senior libero Victoria Garrick, who currently averages 4.76 digs per set.
“If we can serve really tough and shut their left sides down, then we can probably live with Gates going off,” Crouch said.
He added that Garrick’s experience will pay dividends.
“This has been her seventh time playing UCLA and she has been there and done it, so she is going to know how to deal with the emotion of it,” Crouch said. “She’s been doing a good job each week … it feels good to have a senior back.”
The Trojans are approaching this game like they have been preparing for all their other games this season: watching footage, doing their research on the players and building off last years’ experience.
“It’d be great to start off Pac-12 with a win against a rival,” Crouch said. “And it would be great to get off on the right foot in the conference and I think we will have a step forward with how we are playing regardless if we win or lose, but I think we have a nice shot at winning.”