The No. 17 USC women’s volleyball team looks to rebound from a tough road trip last weekend as it hosts cross-town rival No. 7 UCLA at 7 p.m. tonight at the Galen Center.
While USC (15-8, 4-7) has struggled on the road, it has proved to be very strong at home, only dropping one match in conference play to Stanford on Oct. 3. USC coach Mick Haley expects the team to play well on its home court against a very talented Bruins squad.
“Everybody’s focused,“ Haley said. “We’ve really been practicing well. I expect us to give our best effort.”
The Women of Troy traveled across town to Pauley Pavilion earlier this season, and UCLA (18-6, 8-3) swept USC in three straight sets to post a Bruin victory.
Since then, UCLA has been on an impressive run in an extremely tough conference, only dropping one match and currently riding a five-match winning streak. Last weekend, UCLA traveled to No. 14 Cal and No. 4 Stanford and beat them both.
The Bruins have compiled a 13.82 kills per set average, hitting .228 on the season. They lead the Pac-10 in digs (16.33 dps) and are second in blocks (2.80 bps).
Providing the biggest challenge for USC is UCLA’s woman in the middle: sophomore blocker Amanda Gil. She leads the nation in blocks (132 blocks for a 1.61 bps average) and serves as an intimidating presence on the other side of the net.
“They’re pretty big and they play good defense,” Haley said. “They’re pretty formidable at the net, and they scrap.”
Although UCLA has been successful recently, Haley believes his team has a solid chance to defeat its rival.
“We didn’t play well at UCLA,” he said. “It gives me hope that when we step out on the floor here [at the Galen Center], we can step it up.”
In order for the Women of Troy to post a win, they will need a solid team effort. Haley said he needs key plays from his outside hitters if his team will come out on top.
He said he needs senior Jessica Gysin to have a great game from the start and sophomore Alex Jupiter and junior Kimmee Roleder to be clicking on all cylinders.
Haley also wants to see how well junior blocker Audrey Eichler will play against the Bruins. In the first matchup between the rivals, Eichler was on the bench behind junior blocker Zoe Garrett but has since jumped Garrett for the starting spot.
“She’s been playing pretty well and scoring points for us,” Haley said. “If she keeps doing that, that will make a difference.”
Haley is also relying on senior libero Alli Hillgren to have a big match. If the Women of Troy execute a solid passing game, it will allow the team to put together a good blocking scheme against UCLA’s attack.
Although Haley would like to get revenge against UCLA by sweeping the Bruins at the Galen Center, he said he’ll take any win he can get in a tough conference, whether it’s in three, four or five sets.
“We keep battling, training hard and focusing,” he said. “We enjoy playing hard, so I’m thinking that this has got to be pretty close to the time for us to get a spurt here and get back in the win column.”
USC leads the all-time series against UCLA by a 49-44 margin but has lost five of the last seven meetings.