By most standards, the Women of Troy are surging.
Following wins over the nation’s top two teams last weekend in No. 1 California and No. 2 Stanford, the No. 5 USC women’s volleyball team has won four consecutive games, three over top-10 teams, as it heads to the Rockies to face Colorado in Boulder, Colo., on Friday before squaring off with Utah in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
But to keep its momentum going, USC (9-3, 4-1) will be forced to take down a Colorado team seeking its first conference win this season. The Buffaloes have not won a set since Sept. 11 during a nonconference matchup with St. John’s, which also marks their last match victory.
Despite its early season troubles, Colorado remains dangerous because of junior outside hitter Kerra Schroeder. Schroeder, a San Diego native, leads the Buffaloes with 192 kills, good for an average of four kills per set, which ranks seventh in the conference.
USC has a strong, but brief history against Colorado, as they lead the all-time series 3-0 with their last meeting in 1997.
After their bout with the Buffaloes on Friday, Mick Haley’s group heads to face Utah (6-8, 1-4) in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
With the Utes in the midst of its first Pac-12 homestand, Utah will be on the prowl for its second conference victory. Led by veteran coach Beth Launiere, who has posted a 425-438 record in her 22 seasons at Utah, the Utes will play the underdog role as they look to topple USC.
Though Utah doesn’t have the same kind of experience USC does — it starts two sophomores and two freshmen — the team can only get better with more playing time.
“Utah’s got good size, and while their youth makes them disorganized, I know Beth [Launiere] will have them ready,” Haley said. “They’re young, big, and they make mistakes, but the team is getting better and we have to be ready for them, especially with them at home.”
Sophomore outside hitter Morgan Odale leads the team with 146 kills on the year, but is followed closely by highly touted freshman Chelsey Schofield, who has 140. Odale plays alongside her sister, junior setter McKenzie Odale, making the duo the third pair of sisters to play under Launiere.
In the middle, sophomore Erin Redd leads the Utes with just under a block and half per set (1.49 blocks per set) to go along with her 135 kills this year. Unlike previous teams the Women of Troy have faced, Utah boasts three threats on offense and it will take a total team effort to thwart the young Utes squad.
For USC, the emergence of sophomore hitters Sara Shaw and Katie Fuller have eased the pressure on senior Alex Jupiter and revitalized the offense. During the last few matches, Jupiter has been able to flourish on the outside as the opposition’s attention isn’t solely focused on her.
With the eminent return of sophomore middle hitter Alexis Olgard, senior Lauren Williams will see her success on offense continue, as the All-American ranks fifth in the country in hitting percentage atw .418.
“Olgard will go on the trip with us, but she is not ready to play yet,” Haley said about his embattled middle blocker. “We had her in practice, huffing and puffing, but she’ll continue to get her legs back and she’ll be ready to play within the next two or three weeks, giving us another weapon to throw out on offense.”
Senior setter Kendall Bateman was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after combining for 83 assists against California and Stanford last weekend.
“Everybody wants a senior setter and having one always gives you a chance to win the national championship,” Haley said. “Kendall, over the last two years, has been a top setter, you have to have some hitters, but she knows when to step up and make it happen when it counts.”