The USC women’s volleyball team split its two matches on the weekend’s Bay Area road trip. USC dropped the first game Friday to No. 4 Stanford before picking up a win Sunday at No. 20 Cal.
Stanford managed to slow All-American senior outside hitter Khalia Lanier, who had averaged over 32 kills in her previous four games. Lanier was held in check by the Cardinal, hitting just .164. Two of Lanier’s three worst games hitting-wise this season came against Stanford.
USC got off to a dismal start Friday, losing the first set 25-12. Lanier, the Trojans’ most potent offensive threat, didn’t record a kill until the second set. Stanford took advantage of a couple of weak service return rotations and finished the set on an 11-1 run. The rotation, with freshman outside hitter Kalen Owes in the back row, continued to give USC trouble all evening.
The second set didn’t go much better for the Trojans, as they lost the frame by a margin of 8. USC managed to scrape out a victory in the third set, but the momentum of the match never seemed to shift, and Stanford closed it out in the fourth.
In the teams’ last matchup, when USC put up a fight against Stanford, the Cardinal were missing senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, last year’s AVCA National Player of the Year. Plummer returned for this matchup and led the Cardinal with 17 kills.
USC struggled to hit all night, posting just a .142 hitting percentage. The Trojans could not muster the offense that previously seemed automatic for Lanier.
“We just [have to] pass the ball a little bit better,” head coach Brent Crouch said. “If we can get it up to the net and distribute it a little more, that will help. If we are passing off the net or digging off the net, then we are going to have to put the balls to the left side.”
USC needs to improve its passing to help last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, setter Raquel Lázaro, distribute the ball more evenly.
“It’s really about our first contacts,” Crouch said. “Can we serve really well, can we dig really well, can we pass really well — if we can do that, then we are going to score points at the net and we’re going to block at the net.”
The Trojans were able to effectively block in the final two sets of the matchup with Stanford and throughout the entire match against Cal. USC outblocked the Bears 10-4 to lead it to the 3-1 victory.
“I think we are one of the few teams that can execute the blocking game plan that we had versus Cal,” Crouch said. “A lot of other teams can’t do that. We are able to help in the middle and get to the outside.”
Freshman opposite hitter Emilia Weske assisted on five blocks against Cal. She also served a career-high six aces, helping USC earn a 10-6 advantage in that department.
Lanier got back on track against the Bears, leading the Trojans with 16 kills and hitting .308. Other key players like Weske and senior middle blocker Jasmine Gross were able to step up offensively. Gross had 11 kills on 23 attempts and hit .391 overall. Overall, USC outhit the Bears .325 to .246.
USC hosts Oregon and Oregon State this weekend at Galen Center. The two matches will help solidify the Trojans’ seeding for the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament.