Women’s volleyball preps for NCAA Tourney

Senior opposite hitter Brittany Abercrombie has been a key cog in the Trojan offense this season. Photo by Alex Zhang | Daily Trojan

The women’s volleyball team (22-9) earned the 10th seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and the Women of Troy will take on Central Arkansas (27-4) at the Galen Center in their first-round matchup. This season marks USC’s 35th all-time appearance in the tournament and its 27th consecutive berth.

The Trojans host the Southland Conference champion Sugar Bears at 7 p.m. on Friday night. The winner will advance to the second round, which begins at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The victor of that match moves onto regionals.

USC is 17-3 all-time in tournament matches at the Galen Center. In 2015, the Women of Troy started their regional run after winning their first- and second-round matches at home. Last season, the team traveled out to Minneapolis, where it fell in five sets to Hawaii. The loss marked just the fifth time USC did not advance out of the first round — and the first time since 1989.

“The best thing for us is not having to travel,” head coach Mick Haley said. “We wanted to make sure this year that we gave the best effort we could to host the first and second rounds. We’ve been able to accomplish that, so now we should focus and see if we can play as well as we can play.”

Sophomore outside hitter Khalia Lanier spearheads USC’s attack: She was one of two Women of Troy who were named to the Pac-12 All-Conference Team.

Senior opposite hitter Brittany Abercrombie was the other player named to the All-Conference team. For both players, it was their second time being named to the All-Conference team.

“I think at this point, it’s so far and late in the season, there’s not much we can do to get better, necessarily, but we just kind of have to maintain the high level that we’re at,” Lanier said.

Lanier emphasized that the team has been continuing to get reps in the gym during practice, working on its chemistry and overall cleaning up its play to avoid making errors. She said the team focused on working hard and going all-out every single time. Haley echoed her sentiments.

“The practices have been very good this week,” Haley said. “We’ve been working really hard on various aspects of our game, plus we’re trying to improve what we do.”

USC has faced 12 teams that also made this season’s tournament. In the 18 matches they played against these teams, the Women of Troy went 11-7.

The team’s main focus right now remains Central Arkansas. This is the first time the teams will be playing each other.

“We’ve seen tape on [Central Arkansas], and they’re a good team,” Haley said. “They control the ball well, they play hard [and] they’re well-coached, so we’ll just take them one at a time.”

To win the national championship — which USC hasn’t done since claiming back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003 — the Women of Troy must win six matches as they move through the bracket composed of 64 teams.

“We want to try win six matches here,” Haley said. “The first one is Central Arkansas, so we have to only think about those people and make sure that we’re ready.”