USC sweeps California, Stanford in Pac-12 action

USC coach Mick Haley might not think his women’s volleyball team is the best team in the country right now, but after this weekend’s play, it’s making a strong case.

Clean sweeps· The Women of Troy celebrate their fourth consecutive win. In each victory, USC has won by a score of 3-0. - Olivia Garcia | Daily Trojan

No. 12 USC toppled No. 1 California in straight sets (25-23, 25-20, 25-22) Friday to hand the Golden Bears their first loss of the season, before promptly making quick work of No. 2 Stanford on Saturday (25-23, 26-24, 25-23).

Despite sweeping both opponents, Haley said his team needs improvement in several areas.

“There were way too many hitting errors, we didn’t serve tough enough and we did not pass well,” Haley said. “[But] sometimes winning a little bit ugly is okay. I felt pretty good that we could play that close and still come out on top.”

Though USC trailed 12-11 in the first set against Stanford, junior outside hitter Katie Fuller jump started the team with back-to-back kills to give the Women of Troy a 15-13 lead. Knotted at 19-19, sophomore outside hitter Sara Shaw chipped in with four consecutive kills to aid USC in capturing the first set.

The Cardinal took control early in the second set, but USC would not be deterred again. Senior outside hitter Alex Jupiter and Fuller played a pivotal role in breaking a 19-19 deadlock, giving the Women of Troy enough momentum to pull away down the stretch.

Much like the first two sets, Stanford held an early advantage but USC battled back, overcoming another slow start to capture the third set and sweep the Cardinal for the first time since 2006.

Jupiter finished with 15 kills and 11 digs, while senior setter Kendall Bateman recorded 41 assists and nine digs against the Cardinal. Shaw notched 11 kills and Fuller had 14 kills and nine digs. Sophomore libero Natalie Hagglund finished with 23 digs in the three sets.

Jupiter, who is the focal point of USC’s offensive attack, credits the recent play of Shaw and Fuller, for giving the Women of Troy a balanced attack. According to Jupiter, it gives USC four offensive weapons its opponents need to worry as opposed to focusing too much on her and Williams.

“I’m very excited, especially because we’ve been working very hard since we kind of had a rough start in the preseason,” Jupiter said. “It’s good to see that [hard work] is really starting to pay off.”

Against California, it was Jupiter who helped the Women of Troy jump out to an early lead.

The Golden Bears battled back, however, knotting the score at 17-17 before USC freshman middle blocker Hannah Schraer, senior middle blocker Lauren Williams and Shaw combined to tally the final eight points of the set, giving the Women of Troy a first-set win.

But in the second set, the  Women of Troy, again, fell behind early. But behind Jupiter, Shaw and Fuller, USC hit .405 in the second-set victory, giving the team 39 kills through the first two sets.

USC finished off California in the third set in a back-and-forth affair that saw 14 ties and six lead changes. The upset was USC’s first win over a top-ranked opponent since the 2004 NCAA tournament.

Since its loss to then-No. 8 UCLA in its Pac-12 opener at home, USC has swept three top-four opponents in the country and four teams in a row. After that early-season defeat, Haley feels his team has improved.

“That game was a real wakeup call, and [after that] I thought we got into practice and kicked it up another notch,” Haley said.

Haley believes his team could get a boost with the return of sophomore middle blocker Alexis Olgard, who might be cleared to play before next weekend’s matches against Colorado and Utah. Olgard is recovering from off-season knee surgery.

USC travels to Colorado to face the Buffaloes on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. before heading to Salt Lake City to take on Utah on Sunday, Oct. 2. at 2 p.m.