The No. 13 USC women’s volleyball team travels across the city tonight to take on crosstown rival No. 16 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion in a much-anticipated matchup that begins at 7 p.m.
The Women of Troy (13-2, 2-2) are coming off a rollercoaster of a weekend that saw the team win a five-set thriller over No. 15 Cal last Friday only to suffer a sweep at the hands of No. 7 Stanford on Saturday.
UCLA (12-5, 2-2) represents the latest challenge for the Women of Troy in a very strong Pac-10 Conference. The Bruins are tied for third in the conference for opponents’ hitting percentage (.163), third for digs (15.04 dps) and fourth in blocks (2.68 bps). UCLA has a 13.66 kps average while hitting .233 as a team.
Similar to USC, the Bruins defeated Cal and lost to Stanford last weekend.
USC coach Mick Haley is looking for his team to steady its course tonight at Pauley Pavilion, a place where the Women of Troy haven’t won since 2005.
“We have a chance to really step up here and get the Bruins at their place and get some momentum,” Haley said. “We’ve been trying to improve every week that we play. If we can constantly do that, I think we’re right on schedule to keep getting better.”
Improving every week may be easier said than done in the Pac-10. The conference has a record eight teams ranked in the Coaches Top 25 poll. But even though most teams USC faces the rest of the season will be tough, tonight’s matchup against the rival Bruins means something special to coaches and the players.
“The game’s always one that you want to win, and as coaches you always want to own the city,” Haley said. “It’s the only place in the US where you have two Division I teams [that are] usually both top-10 teams in the same city. It attracts a lot of attention, and we certainly want to do well.”
USC’s success so far has relied on the consistency of senior outside hitter Jessica Gysin, sophomore outside hitter Alex Jupiter and sophomore setter Kendall Bateman.
However, Haley is looking for more players to step up, particularly on the right side of the court. While Gysin and Jupiter have performed well on the left side, junior outside hitter Kimmee Roleder has been inconsistent so far on the right. If her struggles continue tonight, Haley may shuffle his lineup.
“[Freshman outside hitter Katie] Fuller has been playing very well in practice lately. She may challenge Roleder, which makes our team stronger,” Haley said.
On the other side of the net, UCLA’s junior outside hitter Dicey McGraw and 6-foot-5 sophomore middle blocker Amanda Gil pose major obstacles to USC’s gameplan.
Although USC has controlled McGraw in the past, she is leading the Bruins this season with 202 kills (3.42 kps), 115 digs (1.95 dps) and 229.0 points (3.88 pps) — and is looking for a breakthrough performance against the Women of Troy tonight.
Gil, who Haley believes is the bigger threat, has 125 kills (2.27 kps) while hitting .370 with a team-leading and Pac-10 leading 85 blocks (1.55 bps).
“She creates some obstacles because those kids can put their hands over the net quicker,” Haley said.
The USC coach feels if his team can serve well enough to keep UCLA away from the net and pass enough to get the offense moving, the Women of Troy will come out victorious. But either way, it’s going to be a tough match against a strong rival.
“It’s going to be a pretty even battle,” Haley said. “It will be interesting to see how everybody adjusts to it.”