Over the weekend, the women’s volleyball championship tipped off with the first and second round games. The Women of Troy finished with a 22-9 record and a 14-6 conference record. They began the tournament as the 10th seed and were pitted against Southland Conference champion Central Arkansas (27-4, 13-3 Southland Conference) in the opening round on Friday at Galen Center.
The first set was a tough but entertaining back and forth affair as neither team could seize control of the game early on but the Sugar Bears increasingly ramped up their intensity and took a 14-12 lead on a 5-0 run. The Bears then extended their lead to 19-15 but the Trojans rallied back to tie it at 21 apiece. However, the Sugar Bears powered past the Trojans 25-22 in the first set using a 4-1 run to break the tie as Savanah Allen of the Sugar Bears struck for two crucial kills to push the Bears’ lead.
The second set was even closer as the set saw 12 tied scores and four lead changes between the two squads. Despite taking an early 11-7 lead, the Sugar Bears could not hold onto the lead as the Trojans answered with a 8-2 run. After several back and forth possessions, the two teams were tied again at 20 all. Brittany Abercrombie, who was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference team, pushed the USC lead up 22-20 on back to back kills but the Sugar Bears retook the lead 23-22 following successful strikes. However, the Trojans would tie it at 23 on another Lanier kill and consecutive Sugar Bear errors sealed a hard-fought second set for the Trojans, 25-23. Khalia Lanier, who was also named to the Pac-12 All-Conference team, had 16 kills on a .323 hitting percentage by the end of the 2nd set.
The 3rd set began similarly to the first two sets: no team could take control with several tied scores early on. But the Trojans were finally able to control the game as they led 15-11 which later extended to 20-12 on successful offensive attacks on the hapless Sugar Bears’ defense. Trojans’ errors contributed to a 6-1 Sugar Bears run which cut the lead to just 21-18 but the Trojans answer with a 4-0 run capped off by another Lanier kill to take the 3rd set 25-18, giving USC a 2-1 set advantage entering the 4th set.
In the fourth set, the Trojans would take an early 6-3 lead but could never shake off the Sugar Bears who kept the deficit at 3 in the early going. With only a 3-point lead at just 11-8, the Trojans would go on a momentum draining 7-0 run with Jenna Adams serving two aces coupled with five consecutive Sugar Bears turnovers. With an 18-8 lead, the Trojans never looked back as they finished off the Sugar Bears 25-12 to take the fourth set and the game 3-1.
“It’s always nice to get that first win,” head coach Mick Haley said. “You get amped up to play in this game. You’ve worked all season, and then you’re jumping higher than you’ve jumped all year; you’re going faster and your motor is running. We couldn’t really get into rhythm until the middle of the season set. When we finally calmed down a little bit, it was still touch and go for some time. We were very fortunate to get that second set and then we relaxed and played our game.”
Pac-12 All-Conference player Khalia Lanier led the way for the Women of Troy with 24 kills on .320 hitting percentage while fellow Pac-12 All-Conference teammate Brittany Abercrombie recorded 14 kills on .273 hitting percentage. Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention Niki Withers and freshman Brooke Botkin combined for 19 kills. Setter Reni Meyer-Whalley recorded a double double of 26 assists and 11 digs while fellow setter Cindy Marina also recorded 26 assists along with four service aces. As a team, the Trojans combined for 62 kills on .307 hitting percentage while recording 60 assists, 56 digs, 10 block assists and 12 service aces in the win.
The Sugar Bears were led by Savanah Allen and Megan Nash with 12 kills each. The rest of the team had 26 kills combined while Elizabeth Armstrong recorded a game-high 41 assists. The Sugar Bears recorded 50 kills total on a .226 hitting percentage while recording 47 assists, 51 digs, six block assists and four block solos. Central Arkansas fought hard throughout the game, keeping the game close and within reach in the first three sets, but a sloppy fourth set which saw nine kills and nine errors seal the season for the Sugar Bears.
“That’s a very good team,” Haley said. “They do what they do very well and they’re taught very well by a very good coach. I have a real appreciation for the way that they played. I thought they really gave us a good match.”
With the win, the Trojans record their 23rd win of the season and advance to the second round to play the San Diego Toreros, who edged out Louisiana State 3-1 in an entertaining four set game. The Sugar Bears’ season comes to a close with the loss which puts them at 27-5 on the season as they are eliminated from the tournament.