For the first time since its national title season in 2003, the USC women’s volleyball team is riding an eight-game win streak after taking down Arizona and Arizona State.
The Women of Troy’s (13-3, 8-1) matchup in Tempe, Ariz., proved to be a tough test for coach Mick Haley’s squad as it faced off against a gritty Arizona State team Saturday.
“Arizona State beat us there last year and they play well against us at home,” Haley said. “Through the course of the last seven or eight years, we’ve went to five games and they seem to always play hard against us.”
Though sitting in 11th place in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils (4-13, 0-8) tested USC, taking the match to four sets and snapping the Women of Troy’s streak of seven straight sweeps.
Arizona State’s outside hitter Ashley Kastl kept the Sun Devils close, with a match-leading 23 kills, including the game-winning kill that ended the first set.
Despite trailing early, the Women of Troy finished the match strong, winning the final three games (22-25, 25-17, 25-20, 29-27), which included a fourth-set barnburner that ended on a Hannah Schraer kill and a Sun Devil hitting mistake.
Though Arizona State’s setter Shannon McCready had 51 assists on the day, senior setter Kendall Bateman outdid her counterpart, notching 60 assists. Bateman now has a Pac-12-leading 11.91 assists per set.
“Kendall had a great weekend,” Haley said. “Traveling two weekends in a row takes its toll and I’m pleased we were able to weather that.”
Unusually savvy at the net, the Women of Troy turned in their best defensive performance of the year as the team combined for 13 blocks during the match.
“We were very good up at the net, but the problem was they had the 12 blocks against us,” Haley said. “Our hitting just wasn’t very good and [hitting and blocking] are supposed to happen at the same time.”
Williams, who registered 23 kills and eight blocks this weekend, has become an unstoppable force in the middle these last few weeks and her season-high seven blocks against the Sun Devils set the tone defensively.
“We expected Williams to be like this,” Haley said. “She’s focused and the better she gets in the middle, the easier it will be for our outside hitters. I think she’s continuing to work hard and as defenses are starting to game plan around her, we’ll get stronger as a team.”
Alongside Williams, sophomore libero Natalie Hagglund set a career high with 33 digs against the Sun Devils.
Led by senior All-American middle blocker Lauren Williams and her Pac-12-leading .422 hitting percentage, USC made easy work of Arizona (11-6, 3-5) sweeping the Wildcats in Tucson, Ariz., on Friday.
Recording their seventh straight sweep (27-25, 25-21, 25-19), the Women of Troy received 16 kills from senior outside hitter Alex Jupiter, and as a team topped hitting percentages of more than .400 in the second and third sets.
Freshman middle blocker Hannah Schraer got another start opposite Williams in the middle for USC, and once again she made the most of her efforts, recording six kills on a .714 hitting percentage, nudging her season total just over .400.
Schraer and sophomore outside hitter Katie Fuller both reached double-digit kills against Arizona State and the duo set season highs in blocks on Saturday as well.
After recording season highs against Arizona State with 66 kills and 13 blocks, the Women of Troy return home to take on Oregon and Oregon State this weekend.