The USC women’s volleyball team didn’t skip a beat in its first home game of the season, beating UC Irvine 3-0 Wednesday in its first match at the Galen Center to improve to 9-1. The Women of Troy held off the Anteaters in straight sets (25-18, 25-15, 25-19), their fifth sweep in nine victories this year.
Senior outside hitter Sara Shaw led all players with 10 kills to pace a balanced USC offense. Sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio chipped in with nine kills, while freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu added eight.
“We’ve got some work to do, but I told them that I was pleased that they won,” USC head coach Mick Haley said. “I thought we did some very good things, but we still aren’t in rhythm yet, and we aren’t recognizing certain situations, so I’m hoping Friday gives us another opportunity to get better.”
Haley opted to incorporate several different rotations into the match, as 13 players saw time against Irvine. Freshman setter Alice Pizzasegola split duties with junior Hayley Crone, notching 14 assists along with five digs and two service aces. Fellow freshmen Anne Marie Schmidt, Taylor Whittingham and Elise Ruddins received minutes throughout the contest, and sophomore middle blocker Kiara Wright performed spot duty as well.
USC maintained a consistent lead throughout the first set, going up 19-10 on back-to-back kills by Nwanebu and Shaw. Junior middle blocker Hannah Schraer knocked down a kill for USC’s 23rd point, after which an attacking error and service error sealed the frame for the Women of Troy.
“We were trying to get a serve-receive pattern straightened out and define responsibilities a little better,” Haley said. “I really think when everyone’s on the same page, this is going to be a great team. I keep wanting to push it a little too fast, but mostly everyone here was satisfied by the win.”
The Women of Troy ran away with the second set, working their way to leads of 16-8 and 24-12 before winning the set on a UCI service error. The third set saw stiffer competition from the Anteaters, but USC held on for the win. Pizzasegola fed Nwanebu for a kill to bring up match point, and a UCI service error again concluded the set and clinched the victory for the Women of Troy.
“I think we kept pressure on UCI, which is good because they’re a very good team,” senior libero Natalie Hagglund said. “They served very tough, and I think our concentration went in and out, but I think our offense was pretty good at times. We need to work on playing a consistent game and keeping our concentration throughout the match.”
Haley has maintained that wins are not entirely representative of where the team stands and said that his squad still has a way to go before realizing its maximum potential.
“I just think we can play so much better,” Haley said. “That’s where I’m at with my evaluation. I’m not so concerned about wins, I just think that we can play better.”
Haley has come to expect the usual consistency from the likes of seniors Hagglund, Shaw and middle blocker Alexis Olgard. But the steady presence of his freshmen after three exhausting road tournaments had Haley beaming.
“The fact that they’re not brain-dead from three weekends in a row on the road is pretty amazing, so I think they’re doing exceptionally well,” Haley said. “The freshmen’s volleyball IQ is very high. They know how to play the game, and that’s what is saving them right now. What I’m asking them to do — changing techniques, learning a new system, meshing with the upperclassmen — is taking a lot out of them, so we’re going to have to get our legs back and be mentally alert.”
USC will host Cal State Fullerton tonight in its final match before kicking off conference play against crosstown rival UCLA next Wednesday.