The No. 13 USC women’s volleyball team moved into sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 over the weekend, answering a loss to No. 25 Washington with a victory over No. 19 Washington State.
The Trojans dropped a four-set match to the Huskies on Thursday, but came out on top in four sets against the Cougars Sunday afternoon.
The Women of Troy were left without several starters for both matches, including junior outside hitter Khalia Lanier and sophomore outside hitter Brooke Botkin, who were both under concussion protocol.
Junior outside hitter Emily Baptista led the team against Washington with 24 kills and 18 digs. The Trojans hit .262 in the loss.
The Women of Troy were in a better place by Sunday. Senior libero Victoria Garrick had 24 digs for the Women of Troy. Baptista again led the way with 17 more kills, and credited her teammates for setting her up for success throughout the match.
“I’ve got to give it to the passers,” Baptista said after Sunday’s match. “I think our passing was pretty great [and] allowed our setter to move the ball around so the blockers weren’t always on me. I think our defense and passing were really great so that allowed for me to get a lot of kills today.”
Sunday’s Trojans looked like an entirely different team than the one that fell to Washington State earlier this season in a five-set road loss in mid-October. The team remembered that match when it faced off against the Cougars for the second time Sunday Baptista said.
“We were really motivated this game since the last time we played them was a heartbreaker,” Baptista said. “Even though we’re missing a couple players, we [said] ‘OK, we’re going to play for revenge, we’re going to play for the people that aren’t able to be with us right now.’”
Baptista said the victory will be important for the team’s confidence moving forward, considering how short-handed the squad was against the Cougars.
“We’re missing a few girls, and all three of them are starters, so I think it gives us a lot of confidence that we can be a very good team — that we can beat ranked teams like Washington State — with girls who don’t normally play,” Baptista said. “That gives us a lot of confidence for [the] rest of the season.”
The Trojans took a commanding 2-0 set lead with a pair of 25-18 wins before dropping the third set 25-22, but finished the deal with a fourth-set victory of the same score.
“[Winning the first set] is a big deal,” head coach Brent Crouch said. “We’ve been talking about that for a few weeks, about coming out really strong. ‘Announcing ourselves’ has been kind of a phrase we’ve been talking about a lot. We came out swinging.”
Crouch echoed Baptista’s sentiments about the importance of the victory, which helped the Trojans’ confidence. USC only has four regular season matches — and only one at the Galen Center — until playoffs begin.
“We’re missing half our starting lineup,” Crouch said. “Getting some new experience is great heading into the tournament. And the people that are hurt — it may not be the end of the world for them just to get some rest right now … It’s just a really good team bonding, team culture experience because everyone is getting to play now.”
For the most part, the Trojans survived missing a few starters. The Cougars’ late comeback attempt ultimately failed, but the Trojans didn’t waltz to the finish line.
“We didn’t overcome [the injuries] very much in the last two sets, but the first two we did a nice job — we passed pretty well,” Crouch said. “The last two sets, that’s where we really missed [the injured players] — when we’re not passing real well, they’re still able to get us kills, and when we started passing off the net in the third and fourth sets [we were] not able to get kills.”
The team focused on defense in the days leading up to the Washington State match. The Trojans proved themselves by holding the Cougars to a .098 hitting percentage, compared to a .193 percentage for USC. The Women of Troy had 12 blocks in the match.
“That ended up being the difference,” Crouch said of the defense. “You don’t have to do a lot of offense if you’re doing that.”
The Trojans will head to Arizona this weekend for a Friday match against No. 20 Arizona and a Sunday contest with Arizona State.