USC prepares for home clash with Arizona schools

The USC women’s volleyball team opened its season with 13 consecutive wins, highlighted by a four-set rout over then-No. 1 UCLA at home on Sept. 19.

But since its hot start, the squad has cooled off a bit, dropping two of its last three games and now sitting in a four-way tie for third place in the Pac-12 standings.

After a sluggish couple weeks, the No. 5 Women of Troy (14-2, 2-2) will return to the Galen Center to face conference rivals, Arizona and Arizona State, on Friday and Sunday.

“The girls are working hard and I expect them to get better,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “It’s a work in progress, but by November I think we’ll be really good.”

Though November might loom large for the Women of Troy, their recent skid has tempered expectations — if only for the time being.

A three-set win last Sunday at Washington State proved to be a bright spot with the recent return of a dominant blocking game for USC.

Unlike their performances against Oregon and Washington, the Women of Troy, behind the stellar play of sophomore middle blocker Alexis Olgard, who recorded six blocks over the course of the match.

“Our blocking was much better, as it needed to be,” Haley said. “That definitely helped our offense get back on track, and it’s something we didn’t accomplish the last two times out.”

The Women of Troy would like to make quick work of Arizona on Friday night with the Sun Devils (13-4, 2-2) up next. Game times are scheduled for 7 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively.

The Wildcats (9-6, 1-3) have struggled during Pac-12 play sporting a 1-3 record, and USC is in need of another confidence-building victory.

Arizona features sophomore outside Madi Kingdon, who ranks third in the Pac-12 in kills per game, but lacks complementary firepower past that.

With its last five meetings ending in USC victories, the Wildcats will be hard pressed to take down the nation’s No. 5 team.

Sunday, though, looks to be a challenging day with Arizona State coming to Los Angeles.

Led by two-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week Macey Gardner, the Sun Devils feature arguably the top offense in the Pac-12.

They have tallied wins in five of their last seven matches, including a tight, four-set loss to Stanford last week.

The Women of Troy will have their hands full containing Arizona State’s newcomer, Gardner, and will need another signature blocking performance if they want to control the game come Sunday.

Senior captain Katie Fuller and freshman Samantha Bricio will look to recapture their early season form as USC needs all the offense it can get if it wants to keep up with the surging Sun Devils.

With a trip up north to play at Stanford and Cal looming, a three-game winning streak will go a long way toward regaining the confidence that came along with this season’s early excitement.

“We just need to stick to the game plan and I think we’ll be fine,” said sophomore setter Hayley Crone. “We showed Sunday that we could rebound from a couple of tough losses, and we just need to keep the momentum.”

Sunday’s contest against Arizona State will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.