USC women’s volleyball kicks off Pac-12 play on Wednesday, as the team travels crosstown to take on rival UCLA. The Women of Troy take a perfect 12-0 record into Pauley Pavilion and have dropped just two of their 38 sets so far this season.
The team is coming off of another impressive tournament showing in Norman, Oklahoma, to cap off its dominant preseason. Wins over Oklahoma and Maryland boosted USC into No. 3 in the nation, and the Women of Troy have rocketed up the rankings after starting at No. 22 less than a month ago.
Though the squad is undoubtedly talented, not many were expecting USC to be such a force this season. Head coach Mick Haley admitted that he was also a bit surprised — not that he’s complaining.
“We really thought it would take a little bit longer for these young kids to get acclimated,” he said. “But they’re pretty volleyball savvy and they’re competitive.”
Conference play, however, will pose a new kind of challenge to the Women of Troy. The players will be pitted against opponents they face year in and year out and who are more aware of their tendencies on the court as a result.
“They are going to be familiar with you,” Haley said. “They know your coaching styles; [Pac-12 teams] study each other all the time.”
While the Women of Troy have been busy studying the Bruins in preparation for the game, Haley knows the Bruins are aware of his team’s weaknesses as well.
“They’ll attack any weaknesses that we have, and they’ll attack them ferociously. It’ll be interesting to see how our kids hold up,” he said.
The Women of Troy actually find themselves at an advantage in this regard going into their Pac-12 matchups. Since USC overhauled its system after last season, other teams in the conference will have less tape on the squad’s playing style leading up to a match. Coach Haley hoped this would give his team the edge.
“[UCLA] really haven’t played against a USC team that has this kind of speed and this kind of scoring potential,” he said.
UCLA will aim to prove Haley wrong on Wednesday night. The No. 13 Bruins have also gotten off to a strong start in their 2015 campaign and have not dropped a match since August. Their last loss came when they fell 0-3 to Loyola Marymount. UCLA responded well to the early season loss, winning its next eight games by a combined score of 24-3.
The Bruins will play their first game of the year in the Pauley Pavilion when the Women of Troy visit; they played their first two home games of the season in the John Wooden Center.
USC will have extra motivation for Wednesday’s contest, as the Women of Troy fell to the Bruins in both their meetings last year. The Pac-12 opener at the Galen Center finished 0-3, and the team finished its regular season with a 2-3 loss in Westwood.
Haley said that he “could not fathom” losing two years in a row to UCLA but was confident that this year’s team would snap the skid.
“They have a completely different focus,” he said. “They may be young, but they are certainly hungry.”
This 2015 squad looks different from last year’s. At this point in 2014, the Women of Troy limped into their Pac-12 opener against the Bruins having lost three of their last four, and they would go on to start a three-game skid with a loss to UCLA. Now with a new look and newfound confidence, USC will try to turn the tables this season. The game will begin at 7:30 p.m. with TV coverage on the Pac-12 Network.