As a result of its current eight-match win streak, the USC women’s volleyball team has climbed to the top of the Pac-12 standings.
After consecutive road trips, No. 3 USC (13-3, 8-1) returns home to the friendly confines of the Galen Center for two straight weekends.
“It’s always better to be at home,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “But we can’t relax. It’s where you finish at the end of the conference schedule that’s most important.”
For the first time since 2002, USC didn’t play a single home match during the non-conference schedule, as it had to play six of its first nine conference matches on the road.
Since they won all six road matches, the Women of Troy have given themselves the chance to defend their first-place Pac-12 standing where they want to — at home.
“We’re taking care of business right now,” Haley said. “We just have to keep our intensity and stay together.”
On Friday, USC will take on No. 16 Oregon, which was swept by California last weekend before falling in four sets to Stanford.
“While they didn’t fare well this weekend, they are a very good team,” Haley said. “We know they can score, so we’re going to have to defend really well.”
The Ducks (12-4, 5-3) feature junior outside hitter Alaina Bergsma, who ranks second in the Pac-12 in kills per set (4.83 kps), and sophomore setter Lauren Plum, who ranks second in the Pac-12 with 11.70 assists per set.
“[Plum] really throws it around in a fast system, and Bergsma has been unstoppable,” Haley said. “[Bergsma] is name of the game for them. If she can carry a heavy load, they can play really well.”
Both USC and Oregon played Minnesota and Penn State to start their seasons in the AVCA Showcase, with varying results against both teams.
USC beat Minnesota in five sets while losing to Penn State in five, and Oregon lost to Minnesota in five sets but beat Penn State in four.
The Women of Troy have won their last five matches against Oregon, and haven’t lost to the Ducks at home since 1990.
USC will then face Oregon State on Saturday night, in a match that could potentially be the squad’s 10th straight win.
The Beavers (11-7, 3-5) have lost their last four matches, including consecutive four-set losses at home last weekend to Cal and Stanford.
But the squad doesn’t have any jitters about playing on the road; it has a 4-2 record when it plays away from its home arena in Corvallis.
“They’re flying under the radar, and playing better than people know,” Haley said. “They have a different system [than Oregon], it’ll be difficult to plan for them.”
Oregon State’s offense has struggled this year, as the Beavers rank 10th in the Pac-12 in hitting percentage (.188), ninth in assists (11.23 aps) and ninth in kills (12.27 kps).
But the Beavers have showed some fight on defense, as they are fourth in the Pac-12 in digs (15.49 digs per set), sixth in blocks (2.49 digs per set) and fifth in opponent hitting percentage (.174).
“They’re a much improved, more athletic team [from last year],” Haley said. “They have some young players that are playing really well.”
The Women of Troy have also won their last five matches against the Beavers, and haven’t fallen at home to them since 1996.
Though USC has matched the 2003 national championship squad with seven consecutive conference wins, Haley thinks the team has to improve in fundamental areas to get to the level of that championship squad.
“The difference between those two teams is that [the 2003 team] played really outstanding defense,” Haley said. “We’re not as good as that team yet, but we could be changing that by the end of the year.”
Both matches against the Oregon teams start at 7 p.m. at the Galen Center.