No. 5 USC tops Wildcats and Sun Devils

Another weekend turned in two dominant performances from the USC women’s volleyball team, which defeated Arizona and Arizona State at the Galen Center this weekend to boost the team’s record to 16-2.

The No. 5 Women of Troy downed the Wildcats 3-0 Friday night before a 3-1 victory over the Sun Devils on Sunday afternoon. Freshman outside hitter Samantha Bricio continued her torrid pace this season, notching 22 kills Friday before setting a new season high with 24 against Arizona State.

“We were really focused today,” junior libero Natalie Hagglund said. “We had a lot of confidence that we didn’t have in the Oregon match, and confidence is huge for our team.”

The first set Sunday was tight for the Women of Troy, who were locked into a 6-6 tie before a tandem block by sophomore setter Hayley Crone and freshman middle blocker Alicia Ogoms broke the draw. Bricio stopped back-to-back Sun Devil rallies with kills to extend the lead to 12-7. Crone set up senior opposite hitter Katie Fuller for a kill after an exciting rally to stretch the margin to 14-8 putting a comeback out of reach for the Arizona State.

A kill by junior outside hitter Sara Shaw put the Women of Troy up 22-13, after which a Fuller kill sealed the first set for USC 25-17. The defense was critical to the team’s success in the first set, holding the Sun Devils to only 10 kills on an attacking percentage of .093.

“Our blockers were really doing their job today,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “They were funneling balls in to Natalie’s area, and she’s one of the best at digging balls out.”

The second frame mirrored the first, this time with Arizona State taking a lead 6-5 on an apparent error by the referees before a Fuller kill knotted things up at 6-6. Shaw followed an Ogoms kill with a block to put the Women of Troy up 9-8, their first lead of the set. The set remained tightly contested but the Sun Devils improved their hitting, taking a 15-12 lead. A couple of errors drew the Women of Troy to within 22-20, but an Arizona State service ace gave the Sun Devils match point. The Women of Troy notched three consecutive points to narrow the gap, but the Sun Devils terminated the rally and took the second set 25-23. USC struggled with its hitting, attacking at a clip of .111 after a .275 mark in the first set.

The third set featured a stronger attack from the Sun Devils, who took advantage of USC’s errors to record an early 9-7 lead. The Women of Troy rattled off three straight points, with an Ogoms kill and a Crone service ace pushing USC up 11-9. Back-to-back kills by Bricio and junior middle blocker Alexis Olgard extended the lead to 15-13. The Sun Devils chipped away at the lead and narrowed the gap to 21-18, but Shaw terminated the rally to seal the set for the Women of Troy.

Shaw opened the fourth frame strong for the Women of Troy, notching a kill and a block to stake the Women of Troy to a 7-4 lead. The Women of Troy had a tough time putting the set away, though, as the Sun Devils closed the gap to 18-17. Shaw set up match point with a kill before an Arizona State attacking error sealed it for the Women of Troy.

“We stayed patient in the third and fourth sets, and I think that’s what got us the wins,” Olgard said. “Patience and confidence really helped in getting us the win.”

The win followed an impressive outing Friday, in which the Women of Troy handled the Wildcats 3-0 (25-17, 25-16, 25-21). Bricio was dominant for the Women of Troy, notching a then-season-high 22 kills to go along with a .475 attack clip.

The win also marked number 300 for Haley’s USC career. The coach has now recorded 300 wins each for three schools. Looking forward, Haley stressed the need to remain confident.

“It’s going to be the hardest trip, going to the Bay Area. Stanford is always very difficult to beat on their home court,” Haley said. “They’re starting a lot of freshmen too, so it’s going to be a good matchup for us to see how we do.”

The Women of Troy will face off against the Cardinal on Wednesday night before a Friday night match against California.