Women of Troy searching for elusive road sweep

This weekend the No. 16 USC women’s volleyball team will try to do what every team has struggled to do in the Pac-10 this season: win on the road.

In what might be the toughest women’s volleyball conference of all time — eight teams in the Pac-10 are ranked in the Coaches Top 25 Poll — the Women of Troy will try to reverse a conference trend and record two victories this weekend away from their home court.

Led by sophomore outside hitter Alex Jupiter and senior outside hitter Jessica Gysin, USC (15-6, 4-5) will travel to Northern California to face No. 4 Stanford (14-5, 7-2) tonight and No. 14 Cal (12-7, 5-4) Saturday in two road matches that the Women of Troy must win in order to keep their conference title hopes alive.

Although USC dropped four straight matches heading into last weekend, the Women of Troy swept both Oregon and Oregon State at the Galen Center. USC coach Mick Haley hopes that his team’s recent success has given his players the poise to play successfully on the road.

“I think we’ve got our confidence back,” Haley said. “We have a clear vision of what we’re trying to do and where we can go with this.”

The Cardinal, however, is sure to put USC’s confidence to test. Stanford is arguably the conference’s best team and swept USC (25-23, 35-33, 25-18) at the Galen Center in three tight matches earlier this season. Still, USC feels it can fix the small errors that cost it the match on Oct. 3 and pull out a big road victory.

“We don’t feel like this is an insurmountable task,” Haley said. “We feel confident that we are right on the same level with Stanford, and we know that if we can win two this weekend, we’re back in the hunt for the conference championship.”

Stanford, the highest ranked team in the conference, averages 13.92 kills per set and 2.58 blocks per set. Senior middle blocker Janet Okogbaa leads the team with 199 kills (2.76 kps) for a .373 hitting percentage and is second in the Pac-10 in blocking (1.33 bps). Junior outside hitter Alix Klineman has a team-leading 273 kills (3.96 kps) with 154 digs (2.23 dps) and 39 blocks (0.57 bps).

While Stanford focuses more on moving the ball around to set up their attack, Cal relies on its aggressiveness to score, which can also pose a challenge to the Women of Troy as well.

USC beat Cal in a five-set thriller (22-25, 29-27, 25-19, 16-25, 22-20) earlier this season at the Galen Center and will look to post another victory over its cross-state rival Saturday. USC-Cal battles are always tight and tend to go the distance before either team posts a win.

“We always felt we played pretty well at Cal,” Haley said. “We have a lot to prove in ourselves going back up there.”

The Golden Bears average 13.96 kills per set and 2.63 blocks per set and are third among Pac-10 teams with a .274 hitting percentage. Senior outside hitter Hana Cutura has 360 kills (5.07 kps) and 396.0 points (5.58 pps) and leads all Pac-10 players in kills and points. Senior middle hitter Mindi Wiley is third among Pac-10 players in hitting percentage (.378) and has 74 blocks (1.04 bps) with 180 kills (2.54 kps).

With two tough opponents ahead, Haley is looking for his team to make a statement on the road and start moving up the conference ladder.

“All the Pac-10 teams have been winning at home and losing on the road,” he said. “We need to go into somebody else’s house and start winning, and we need to do it two times this weekend.”