USC dusts off Wildcats, sweeps Sun Devils
Back at the Galen Center for its final home weekend doubleheader, the USC women’s volleyball team avenged its first loss against Arizona and rebounded from a tough Washington trip the weekend prior.
The No. 8 Women of Troy (24-5, 14-4 Pac-12) defeated the Arizona Wildcats 3-0 Friday night (25-22, 25-14, 25-21) and then turned back the Arizona State Sun Devils Sunday 3-0 (25-15, 25-15, 25-21). The much-needed victories came after USC dropped consecutive matches for the first time this season.
“I thought our intensity was up and we pushed it much harder,” USC head coach Mick Haley said. “We won most of the long rallies against Arizona, which is very good. We did a very, very good job with the serve and pass game against Arizona State.”
Against the Wildcats, freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu shined once again with 16 kills to lead all players. Sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio put together another impressive all-around performance with 10 kills, three service aces and six digs, while senior libero Natalie Hagglund recorded 19 digs.
“It’s always important to be able to redeem ourselves, because losing back-to-back is a hit to the confidence,” Hagglund said. “We came back to play well and Arizona beat us 3-0 at their place, so being able to redeem ourselves was really big for us.”
USC started off slowly in the first set against Arizona and fell behind 5-2, but recovered to take an 8-7 lead before Bricio capped off a thrilling rally for a 14-12 lead. Arizona kept the score close, but the Women of Troy maintained their lead. A Bricio kill put USC up 24-20 and after a small Wildcat rally, the sophomore ended matters with a strong kill down the middle to seal the set 25-22. The Women of Troy managed to win the frame despite being outhit .341 to .327.
Nwanebu recorded three straight kills to open the second set and propel the Women of Troy to a 8-1 lead. The Wildcats started to chip away but a kill by senior middle blocker Alexis Olgard pushed USC’s lead to 11-6. Freshman outside hitter Elise Ruddins joined the party with back-to-back kills to make the advantage 23-14. After an Arizona shot went out of bounds to give USC set point, the Women of Troy won the frame 25-14 when Olgard quickly struck down a Wildcat strike.
The Women of Troy jumped ahead 6-2 in the third frame on a Bricio kill and later went on a 5-0 run capped by a tandem block to go up 12-6. The Wildcats fought back and tied the set 17-all, but USC later went up 22-17 after a Bricio kill and an Arizona error. Nwanebu then finished off the with a strong kill from the right side to conclude the set 25-21 and propel the Women of Troy to their 23rd victory of the season.
The Women of Troy hit .314 for the match and received strong hitting performances from Nwanebu (.432 attacking percentage and no errors) and junior middle blocker Hannah Schraer (seven kills and .600 clip).
“We did a much better job of blocking,” Haley said. “[Outside hitter] Madi Kingdon is having a great year for Arizona and Ebony just got lit up by her in Arizona. She did a great job on Kingdon tonight.”
USC came out firing in the first set against the Sun Devils and took a commanding 18-10 lead after Ruddins knocked down a shot from the left side. Sophomore middle blocker Kiara Wright entered the match after a small ASU rally and put down a quick strike to bring up match point at 24-14. Nwanebu then finished the set with a kill to give USC the 25-15 victory.
The Women of Troy faltered a bit in the second set as they saw a 12-4 lead cut to 13-10. Bricio ended the ASU rally with a kill and Hagglund notched an ace to put USC up 15-10. The Women of Troy then ran away with the set as consecutive kills by Olgard and Ruddins put USC up 22-13. A quick Nwanebu strike brought up set point at 24-14 before an error gave USC another 25-15 win.
The Women of Troy struggled to gain separation in the third set, as the teams played to a 12-12 tie to force a USC timeout. The Sun Devils then capitalized on USC’s mistakes to take a 16-14 lead and later went up 18-15, but the lead was short-lived as USC rattled off three straight points to tie it. USC then displayed its mettle and took four out of five to go up 23-20. A Nwanebu block brought up match point and the freshman then knocked down a strong kill from the right side to finish the set 25-21 and secure USC’s 24th victory.
“We did a really good job of finishing the match,” Ruddins said. “I thought our defense was amazing tonight. We shut down their hitters really well and we channeled the ball for Natalie pretty well.”
USC will have a busy Thanksgiving week as it travels to Westwood to take on rival UCLA Wednesday before finishing the regular season Friday against visiting Colorado.
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