The USC women’s volleyball team entered Wednesday night’s home match surrounded with the usual hype that accompanies their matches against UCLA. But in defeating the Bruins, the Women of Troy sent a message to both their crosstown rivals and the entire Pac-12 conference that they’re a force to be reckoned with this season.
The Women of Troy opened conference play with a bang, defeating the Bruins 3-1 (25-23, 25-22, 21-25, 25-16) in a matchup between Los Angeles rivals and two of the Pac-12’s premier heavyweights.
“We’ve been trying to attack our opponents in the middle and we were able to give them some serious problems there,” head coach Mick Haley said. “We passed very well tonight and they were serving us tough, but when they served us short we are able to strike back and hit the ball quickly.”
The first set saw both teams trade points back and forth as expected, playing to a 17-all tie. A block by senior outside hitter Sara Shaw and a UCLA attacking error put USC in front 20-18. The Bruins rallied to tie it at 21, but a kill by junior Emily Young and an attacking error gave the Women of Troy the first set, 25-23.
UCLA took control early of the second set to start 6-3, but senior middle blocker Alexis Olgard and Young finished off a sequence of strong plays to tie the score at 7-7. The teams stayed close until freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu knocked down a tremendous strike to increase the lead to 24-21, and another Bruin error sealed the set 25-22.
The teams played to a 9-9 standstill to open the third set, but the Women of Troy rattled off four straight points, culminating in an Nwanebu kill, to jump in front 13-9 and force a UCLA timeout. Fighting for their lives, the Bruins mounted considerable pressure to tie the frame at 18-all and then take the lead 19-18. Nwanebu restored the tie with a left-side strike, but the Bruins stormed back to lead 23-20 and triumphed 25-21 on a kill by outside hitter Haley Lawless. The Women of Troy committed eight errors in the third set, more than the first two sets combined.
The Women of Troy jumped out in front 9-6 to start the fourth set and an Nwanebu kill extended it to 14-10. The Women of Troy dominated from there, at one point increasing their lead to 10 before Shaw ended the match at 25-16 with her seventh kill.
After allowing UCLA to pull to within 12-10 in the fourth set, USC took matters into its own hands, reeling off six consecutive points to go up 18-10. They never looked back after that, leading by as much as 10 before wrapping up their 11th victory of the season.
Junior middle blocker Hannah Schraer saw action in each of the four sets and solidified the middle for USC, recording seven kills and attacking at a team-high clip of .583. The Arcadia, Calif. native also assisted on two blocks to finish the night with 9 points.
“I think we all came out focused and ready to go, which is important throughout the season because everyone’s good in the Pac-12,” Olgard said. “We prepared very well and had a quiet intensity about us.”
The Women of Troy put forth one of their best serving performances of the season, knocking down six aces.
“I think that’s the best we’ve served the Bruins, maybe even since we’ve been here,” Haley said. “I think we caused them some serious trouble, because normally we don’t serve them so tough.”
What Didn’t Work
The Women of Troy triumphed despite a flurry of hitting errors in the latter half of the match. Haley was particularly unhappy about the five errors in the fourth set despite a nine-point victory and highlighted the errors as one of the focuses of improvement going forward.
The Women of Troy will have the rest of the week off before they travel to Salt Lake City to take on Utah Sunday afternoon.
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