No. 8 USC hits the road for second straight weekend

The Women of Troy have had a difficult run during Pac-12 play so far this season, but a trip to the Mountain West to face Utah and Colorado could help them get back on track this weekend.

Last weekend, the USC women’s volleyball team (22-4, 10-4) with upstart Arizona State which had too much momentum for the Women of Troy to handle. The Sun Devils recorded just their second victory against USC in their last 35 meetings, and did it in fine fashion with a three game sweep.

Although the Women of Troy bounced back nicely with a four-set win Sunday against Arizona, despite the best efforts of outside hitter Madi Kingdon who recorded 18 kills and 19 digs, they will have to stay consistent and gain some continuity in their next few conferences matches.

“I think it was very important that we came out of Sunday’s match with a win,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “Friday night was very disappointing, and when you’re on the road, you have to win by force. Coming back after losing is pretty good when you take into consideration all the teams that lost this weekend.”

With six conference matches left to play, Haley’s group sits in the third spot in the conference rankings, tied with Washington and UCLA. Matches against Stanford and Cal loom ahead, and a rematch against crosstown rival UCLA is slated to be the last regular season match for USC.

If the Women of Troy hope to make any noise at the top of the Pac-12, this weekend will go a long way to building momentum for their tough upcoming schedule.

“We just have to continue our progress this weekend,” sophomore setter Hayley Crone said. “These teams are going to give us a fight and we just have to be prepared,”

USC will begin its trip to the Rocky Mountains in Salt Lake City against Utah (12-15, 3-11). As one of the newcomers to the Pac-12, Utah has had a tough time adjusting to the constant competition that the conference brings on a nightly basis as evidenced by its lopsided record in the Pac-12.

The Utes are looking to break a seven-game losing streak against USC and seem to have an upset on the mind after taking both No. 8 Washington and Washington State to five sets last weekend.

One thing that Utah has going for it is their strong blocking and superb play at the net. Led by middle blocker Bailey Bateman, who ranks third in block per game in the Pac-12, the Utes will look to stifle a USC attack that has sputtered against dominant defensive teams.

USC heads to Boulder, Colo. on Saturday to face off against Colorado (14-12, 4-10) and finish its road trip in style. Like fellow newbie Utah, the Buffaloes have had a hard time adjusting to the Pac-12 and they have only won one match over their last seven games.

The Women of Troy are undefeated against Colorado in the all-time series (6-0) and will look to stifle a diverse, all-around attack from the home team to extend the streak. With five players averaging at least two kills a game, Colorado knows how to spread the ball around, which should keep USC busy at the net.

The talent disparity between the two teams should be the difference-maker in this match as USC has far superior athletes led by freshman Samantha Bricio and senior Katie Fuller. Junior libero Natalie Hagglund has also been a force for USC even in its defeats, such as her 23-dig performance against ASU last weekend. The Women of Troy are starting to feel the fatigue of the season, but are changing their habits to make sure they are in their best form.

“The key was to have shorter practices and get some sleep this week to prepare for Utah and Colorado,” Haley said. “We have a fast turnaround with a lot of travel, so it will be tough. The girls are tired and we have our work cut out for us, but we have to be focused and get our bodies and our minds where they need to be.”

The Women of Troy need a dominant pair of games of wins in the Rockies, as conference play is quickly coming to a close. A three-game winning streak heading into a home against NorCal rivals Stanford and California sounds like the perfect formula for success.