The Battle of California begins this week for the USC women’s volleyball team, who will put their 12-1 record on the line against their Northern California rivals.
After a successful sweep of Utah in Salt Lake City, the No. 2 Women of Troy return this week to the Galen Center, where they will host No. 7 Stanford on Friday night and California on Sunday night.
USC (12-1, 2-0) remains undefeated in conference play with a 3-0 sweep of Utah last Sunday. Sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio paved the way with 16 kills and four service aces, and senior libero Natalie Hagglund once again anchored a strong defensive effort with 18 digs.
Since falling to University of San Diego on Sept. 13, USC has rattled off six straight wins and has yet to be pushed to a fifth set by any opponent. But the squad is aware that a long, tiring match could very well be looming against the Cardinal.
“Stanford is really playing well. As you can see, last night they beat up on UCLA,” head coach Mick Haley said. “Offensively, they’re scoring at a very high clip, so we’ve been trying to get comfortable with some of the things they do and see if we can design some things that will cause them some difficulty.”
The Cardinal (10-2, 3-0) will arrive at USC on the heels of an impressive sweep over No. 16 UCLA, turning back the Bruins 25-17, 25-15, 25-16 to stay unbeaten in conference play. Stanford has won eight straight games to improve to 10-3 and features three returning All-Americans in senior middle blocker Carly Wopat, sophomore middle blocker Inky Ajanaku and senior outside hitter Rachel Williams.
On the other side, the Women of Troy have the offensive firepower and youth to match the Cardinal. Freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors for the second time this season after posting 17 kills to beat UCLA and nine to defeat Utah. Sophomore Samantha Bricio, who earned the honor herself five times last season, is second on the team with 3.2 kills per set and leads the entire conference with 32 service aces.
It was USC’s upperclassmen, however, who knocked off Stanford last November, and Haley will be counting on his top guns to perform.
“I always expect our older players to perform well when you have competition like this,” Haley said. “This is the fourth year that our seniors have met Stanford, and all three of them have played all four years. It’s a constant battle to see who comes out on top. We’ve played these guys quite even and it’s been a sensational series, so I expect that to continue.”
Though he didn’t note any specific area of improvement ahead of Friday night’s tilt, Haley once again emphasized the need to keep improving against stiffer conference competition and praised his squad’s preparation.
“I know Stanford’s going to be really good, so we have some things that we’re trying to add that will be helpful,” Haley said. “Basically we’re just trying to get better at what we do. We’ve been working very hard with that.
Cal (8-3, 1-1) started off its season with six straight victories, but the Golden Bears have lost three of its last four games to fall out of the national rankings.
When the Bears do triumph, they do so in dominant fashion — all eight of their wins have been sweeps. Outside hitter Adrienne Gehan averages 4.35 kills per set to lead Cal in scoring.
But Haley is confident USC’s diligent preparation will yield positive results against their rivals from the Bay.
“I’m very pleased with the players’ attitudes and efforts so far,” Haley said. “They’ve been very good in their preparation, and I feel that we’re on the right page.”
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