With seven teams ranked in the top 25 entering play this weekend, it is clear the Pac-10 is a hard conference to play in. Coming away with conference victories can be quite difficult, even against those few unranked teams.
The No. 5 Women of Troy learned that lesson Friday, as they lost to Arizona State 3-1 in four sets, 29-27, 25-23, 14-25, 25-23. The Sun Devils had lost 28 straight matches to USC prior to this weekend but were able to come away with the victory on a night when USC committed a season-high 31 hitting errors.
Many of these errors were charged to junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter and freshman outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana.
“They made unforced error after unforced error,” said USC coach Mick Haley. “If they don’t stop doing that, we’re not going to be able to get better.”
Fonoimoana did finish with a season-high 20 kills, but she and Jupiter combined for 17 errors on the night.
One major factor Haley attributed as a potential source for his team’s somewhat ineffective execution was the team’s travel schedule.
“I think we’re not going to be able to go in and play on the same day that we travel because they’re just too young yet. They can’t get that right yet,” Haley said. “I pretty much have to take the blame for that little bit.”
After suffering an upsetting defeat on a night when Haley described his team as being “in a fog” for most of the match, the Women of Troy did not have much time to hang their heads, as they had to face No. 25 Arizona in Tucson on Saturday.
Fortunately, the Women of Troy were not eager to let one loss turn into two, and prepared themselves for a tough match.
“A good night [of] sleep and a chance to clear our heads made a lot of difference,” Haley said.
After dropping the first set 19-25, the Women of Troy woke up, taking the next two sets, 25-17 and 25-18, and eventually edging out the win against the Wildcats.
“When we lost that first game, we really weren’t playing, but the second game [USC] really took charge,” Haley said. “I thought we got tired in the fourth, so that kind of caused some concern, but really, the fifth game was a well-played game on our part and gave me a lot of hope that we’re still improving.”
USC ended up winning the match in five sets (19-25, 25-17, 25-18, 21-25, 18-16). It was the first time the Women of Troy had won in Tucson in three years.
“We passed so much better,” Haley said, when comparing Saturday’s match to Friday’s. “We had over 40 sets to the middle tonight … [and] took a lot of pressure off of [outside hitter Katie] Fuller and the outside.”
Junior middle blocker Lauren Williams hit .565 and recorded 13 kills, while freshman middle blocker Alexis Olgard had 10 kills and a hitting percentage of .435. Both had no errors.
As this weekend proved to the Women of Troy, making it through the Pac-10 schedule is not going to be easy. All the team can really do to prepare is return to the daily grind of practice and work to become even more disciplined.
“We’ll continue to focus on our passing and continue to improve on our aggressive serving,” Haley said. “Keep working hard. Keep improving.”