The USC women’s volleyball team saw its 11-game winning streak come to a grinding halt Sunday afternoon in a rare sweep at the hands of the University of Arizona.
The Wildcats upended the No. 1-ranked Women of Troy 3-0 (27-25, 25-21, 25-21) and became the first opponent to out-hit USC all season. The loss was just the second of the season for the Women of Troy (17-2, 7-1 Pac-12) and their first since falling 3-1 to the University of San Diego on Sept. 13.
“I didn’t think we were mentally alert,” USC head coach Mick Haley said. “We had our chances to win our third set and just didn’t take advantage. We went ahead in the third set but we’re just not mentally tough enough right now to work through that situation.”
The USC offense was strong throughout the match, as three players — freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu, sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio and senior middle blocker Alexis Olgard — each recorded 11 kills. Though the Women of Troy posted a respectable .277 hitting percentage for the match, the defense failed to contain the Wildcats, who hit .324 on the strength of outside hitter Madi Kingdon’s 20 kills.
“It reminded me of the [Detroit] Tigers game yesterday when they gave up the grand slam,” Haley said, referencing MLB’s American League Championship Series. “Their hitters didn’t battle the pitchers. They just went all or none, like how we did Sunday.”
The opening set was one of the most contentious that USC had played all season, with a total of 15 ties throughout the set. USC went up 17-16 when junior middle blocker Hannah Schraer and junior outside hitter Emily Young combined for a block, but Arizona came back, pulling ahead 23-21. After holding off set point twice, USC faltered, surrendering consecutive points to drop the first set 27-25.
The second set saw much of the same, with numerous ties and lead changes bringing both teams to a 15-15 standstill. After a four-point run by Arizona, Nwanebu and Olgard registered back-to-back kills to put USC within contention at 23-21, but a Wildcat kill and a USC error concluded the set 25-21 for Arizona.
USC pushed hard to claim the third set and went up 8-3 early, but Arizona withstood the onslaught and applied some pressure of their own to tie it at 11 apiece. The Wildcats later went up 20-15 and never relented after that. Olgard knocked down a kill to pull USC to within three, but Kingdon put an official end to comeback hopes with her 20th kill to seal the set and match for Arizona.
In addition to the overall winning streak, the loss also snapped USC’s seven-game winning streak against Arizona. Despite the loss, Bricio tied defensive specialist Julie Mariani for fifth all-time in single-season service aces at USC (50), and senior libero Natalie Hagglund pushed ahead of UCLA libero Lainey Gera into eighth place in Pac-12 history with 2,017 digs.
Though the scoreboard will reflect the tight competition in each set, Haley was hard-pressed when asked to pull any positives from the loss.
“I don’t know if there are any bright spots that I can pull out,” Haley said. “I thought we got ourselves into a position that we haven’t been in and we had a chance to work ourselves out. But we weren’t successful this time, and now we at least know how to work on that in practice to accommodate that if it comes up again later.”
Haley, who has always been one to stress improvement regardless of the outcome, also emphasized the relevance of such a match to future postseason play.
“I think this will get us ready for the postseason,” Haley said. “We are going to use this as a learning tool and go through all the things that we weren’t able to do successfully. I thought Arizona played a great match today. They played very few mistakes and their hitters were excellent. We have to give them some credit.”
With their longest road trip of the season in the books, the Women of Troy will return to the Galen Center this week for matches against Washington and Washington State.
Last season, USC swept Washington State by a combined set score of 6-0. The Women of Troy split the season series with Washington, losing in Seattle but winning the match at home by a score of 3-2.
The loss to Arizona drops the Women of Troy to No. 4 in the NCAA rankings behind Texas, Penn State and Florida.
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