The USC women’s volleyball team emerged victorious from its five-set bout (25-18, 25-27, 25-19, 21-25, 15-10) against Colorado at the Coors Events Center on Sunday. The squad’s five-set match record now stands at 3-1.
The Women of Troy enjoyed a strong start to the fifth set, doubling Colorado’s score at 10-5 and then trading points to claim it all at 15-10. The win was a tough back-and-forth affair, with flashes of brilliance from USC constantly being halted by a persistent Colorado offense. Sophomore outside hitter Brooke Botkin tallied five of USC’s 10 total kills in this nerve racking decider. Colorado senior outside hitter Alexa Smith responded with four kills (three of which were consecutive) to tie the game early at 4-4. The Buffaloes’ front row dished out 43 kills but were eventually unraveled by its own attack errors; this was an issue that also troubled the Trojans. In the face of a versatile and aggressive offense, Botkin stepped up during the match’s dying moments to deliver three crucial spikes, one of which served as the game-ender.
Although the Trojans had left Colorado having earned their fifth consecutive win, the clash was a turbulent weekend for the Trojans (10-3, 2-0 Pac-12). Following a win against crosstown rival UCLA, the Women of Troy had to handle the toll of travel. According to head coach Brent Crouch, playing away games has affected team energy levels in the past. Crouch gave his overall assessment shortly after the game, specifically citing a level of intensity.
“I like how we responded to the times we were cut down a little bit,” Crouch said. “[Junior middle blocker Jasmine Gross] had a career day and we came back and finished the match off strong in the fifth. It’s always a good thing to do that, to turn things around when you don’t play as well as you wanted. And that’s a success moving forward.”
Crouch also acknowledged how several other conditions made the game against the Buffaloes (9-4, 1-1 Pac-12) more difficult. These included adverse reactions to high altitudes, sickness and the sweltering gym temperature. Other setbacks also stifled the Women of Troy from the get-go. Botkin expanded on how the team had to face the lack of an ideal playing atmosphere.
“It’s always difficult playing in Colorado’s gym because they bring out everyone to come and watch, so the gym is always loud and packed with Colorado fans,” Botkin said. “You feel like everyone’s against you.”
But the Trojans came out strong in the first set. After the game had reached 10-10, senior libero Victoria Garrick served to slide the Trojans into a 6-point lead. Garrick also led the team defensively, racking up 17 digs and six assists. Maintaining this comfortable score gap, the Trojans followed up by scoring back-to-back kills thanks to junior outside hitter Khalia Lanier and Gross. Both Lanier and Gross executed four kills in the opening set.
The minor problems emerged shortly after, as USC tensed up in a combination of both in-game and external hindrances. The Women of Troy fell behind 4 points on two occasions in the second frame but eventually turned the tables at 24-22. In response, the Buffaloes dialed up 5 additional points to clinch the win, 27-25.
A pattern became apparent as USC reaffirmed itself with a win in the third set. The Buffaloes were able to climb within one point of the Trojans at 18-17, but kills from Botkin and Lanier gave USC the momentum to earn a string of consecutive points, and ultimately the set.
“[Lanier and I are] always hungry for the ball … we love getting set,” Botkin said. “We get the most balls, we get the most touches and we have a very important job of putting that ball down every time we get it so our team can score.”
The fourth set saw the odds sway in favor of the Buffaloes once again. Colorado won 25-21 and had led by up 6 points on multiple occasions. However, the Women of Troy erased the memory of the previous set with a .474 hitting percentage in the deciding set of the match.
Freshman setter Raquel Lázaro continued to impress with her sixth double-double of the season (a career-high 58 assists and 16 digs). USC also saw 40 kills from outside hitters; Lanier tallied 21 and Botkin slated 19. The pair also added three service aces.
Up next, the Women of Troy stay on the road to play No. 2 Stanford and Cal. As conference play heats up, Lanier talked about the how the new faces on the team have affected chemistry.
“I think coming in with a lot of new girls and expecting it to always be perfect is always frustrating,” Lanier said. “But the connection [and] the chemistry out there is getting so much better. When we do get in that groove, we can be unstoppable.”