With their season winding down and fresh off a crucial victory over the No. 1-ranked Stanford Cardinal the night before, the USC Women’s volleyball team has its sights set on a long run through the NCAA tournament. Following their most important victory of the season, the Women of Troy celebrated Senior Night by fending off the California Bears 3-2 (23-25, 25-21, 18-25, 29-27, 15-11) on Friday, improving to 26-4 overall and 14-4 in Pac-12 competition.
“Normally, I do get nervous when as much is on the line,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “I think winning last night took off some of the pressure from this match. Winning both games is important for the rankings and the seedings.”
Senior Katie Fuller, playing in her final regular-season home match, notched her seventh double-double of the season with 14 kills and 10 digs. Freshman outside hitter Samantha Bricio paced the USC attack, registering 18 kills while also adding nine digs, two aces and two service blocks. The Women of Troy also celebrated the final home appearances of defensive specialist Erin Yoder, who tied her season high with six digs, and middle blocker Natasa Siljkovic, who saw limited action in the beginning of the match.
After jumping ahead 12-6 on three straight points in the first set, the Women of Troy extended the lead to 16-10, then 23-17 after Shaw knocked down consecutive kills. After Cal recorded its 21st point to get within striking distance, Fuller ended the set with a strong left-side kill.
The Bears restored their lead in the third set, as the Women of Troy fell behind 15-9 and failed to recover en route to a 25-18 loss. Fittingly, the critical fourth set was competitive throughout, as USC took an 18-15 lead. However, the Bears put on a strong push, coming back to tie it at 18-18 before claiming match point at 25-24. The Women of Troy staved off elimination with back-to-back Fuller kills to take the lead, and after more back-and-forth action, the Women of Troy sealed the thrilling set as a Bricio kill and subsequent Cal attacking error secured the frame 29-27 for the hosts.
The fifth and final set featured noticeably less drama than its predecessor, as the Women of Troy rode the motivation from their fourth-set victory to a 15-11 clincher. Shaw turned back a shot to put USC ahead 11-5, at which point the lead became insurmountable. Bricio had a block to secure the 13th point before knocking down a kill to take the match.
Fuller, whose performance on and off the court will surely be missed next season, did not view the match as significantly more special or different emotionally, despite the celebration surrounding Senior Night.
“It was a sentimental game, but I didn’t feel it as much as I thought I would,” Fuller said. “We will hopefully host first and second round, so I think those will be more challenging.”
While the team has certainly met its preseason expectations and is poised to inflict damage in the postseason, Haley stressed the importance of finishing on a strong note and playing without overconfidence.
“It’s a long trip and it’s going to be snowy [in Oregon],” Haley said. “No matter how much I preach, we will be looking forward to UCLA, but we absolutely cannot get caught [off guard] up there. We’ll see what we’re made of on the road because we haven’t done very well on the road, and we need to because we need to win regionals on the road.”
The Women of Troy will conclude their regular season with a match against Oregon State Tuesday before taking on crosstown rival UCLA on Friday night.