The 10th-seeded Women of Troy advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament after a win over San Diego on Saturday.
San Diego edged out the Louisiana State Tigers in a 3-1 win at Galen Center to advance to the second round and recorded their 25th win in the process. The Toreros are 25-4 on the season including an impressive 17-1 in the West Coast Conference play and was ranked No. 9 on the AVCA coaches rankings. The Trojans were No. 14 on the latest AVCA rankings.
In the first set, the Trojans jumped out and continually maintained a small lead over the Toreros for most of the game. While the Toreros kept close with the Trojans, the Toreros could never take the lead against the Trojans. The Toreros committed several mishaps that contributed to a 4-1 Trojans run to take a 18-15 lead, forcing a timeout. The Toreros would storm back to tie it at 22-22 behind Addie Picha’s scoring efforts but Niki Withers would help the Trojans close out the Toreros in the 1st set 25-22. The Toreros recorded nine errors in the first set alone which helped the Trojans tremendously in taking the 1st set.
The second set began with another fiercely competitive start as both teams fought to an 8-8 tie early on. The Trojans would however, take a 5-point lead on a 10-5 run which put the Trojans ahead 18-13 and seemingly in control of the second set. However, the Trojans committed consecutive errors which helped the Toreros tie the game at 18-all. The Trojans and the Toreros would trade point for point until they were tied at 24-24. The Toreros quickly seized advantage with a Roxie Wiblin kill to lead 25-24 before Trojans net error lifted the Toreros to a 26-24 set win. The Toreros only hit .108 in the 2nd set and had eight errors while the Trojans hit .103 and recorded nine errors.
In the crucial third set, the Toreros came out on fire as they took control with a 9-3 early lead which was later extended to 11-3, forcing a USC timeout. The Trojans responded with a 7-3 run of their own to cut into the deficit and force a San Diego timeout. The Trojans kept close with the Toreros throughout the rest of the set as they trailed 20-22 at one point before tying it up at 22 apiece on a Brittany Abercrombie kill. Both teams would later fight to a 24-24 tie but Jayden Kennedy of the Toreros broke the tie with a kill to help the Toreros take a 25-24 advantage. On the next possession, the Trojans commit a service error which gave the Toreros a 26-24 3rd set win and a 2-1 lead, putting the Trojans on the brink of elimination.
The Toreros opened the fourth set carrying the game momentum and surged to an early 5-2 lead but the Trojans tied it up at 8. The fourth set remained heavily contested with neither team gaining control but the Toreros would hold a small 12-10 lead. The Trojans would go on a 7-3 run to take the lead over the Toreros 17-15 behind a balanced effort but the Toreros would answer with a quick 4-1 run to retake the lead at 19-18 and force a USC timeout. However the Trojans would grind out a 6-2 run to take a convincing 24-21 lead on consecutive kills and 2 crucial Toreros errors. While the Toreros cut it to 22-24, an attacking error by the Toreros gave the Trojans a 25-22 4th set win, tying the game up at two sets apiece.
In the fifth and final set, the teams opened with a 2-2 tie but the Toreros would take a brief 5-3 lead. Lanier and Withers helped the Trojans tie it at 5-5 behind a kill and a successful defensive stop. The Trojans would later tie the game again at 7 before Reni Meyer-Whalley helped guide the Trojans to a 9-7 lead with a service ace and assist. The Toreros would storm back to take a 10-9 lead on a short 3-0 run, forcing another USC timeout. Down one and close to elimination, the Trojans sprung to life as Jordan Dunn and Brittany Abercrombie both spiked it home for 2 kills and a Dunn block leads to an attack error, giving the Trojans a 12-10 lead and forcing a San Diego timeout. The Toreros would cut into the lead with a kill but with firm momentum on the Trojans side, the Toreros were unable to defend against a Lanier kill and an Abercrombie kill, giving the Trojans a 14-11 lead and putting the Toreros on the brink of elimination. In the final possession, the Toreros spiked it out of bounds, giving the Trojans a 15-11 5th set victory and a 3-2 game win to advance to the regional semifinals.
“This is a great win for us because we’re continuing to grow and get better,” head coach Mick Haley said. “All the things that we’ve had happen to us during the season happened to us again during set two and three. No one knew who would win set four until right at the end and we started making the right decisions down the stretch and executed the right way. I was really impressed in set five. We had 11 kills on 18 attempts with only two errors. Even though we had some errors, we still came out on top. This is one that can really spring us for the regionals. We really need to know that we can do this and come back from deficits under pressure. It was nice doing it at home. Now, we’ll see if we can do it on the road.”
In the hard-fought win, the Trojans were once again led by Khalia Lanier with 23 kills on .259 hitting percentage, Niki Withers with 14 kills on .194 hitting percentage and Brittany Abercrombie on .194 hitting percentage. Jordan Dunn lifted the team on both the offensive and the defensive side, contributing 7 kills on .583 and recorded two block solos and eight block assists. Reni Meyer-Whalley recorded another double double with 32 assists and 14 digs while Cindy Marina recorded 19 assists and nine digs. Victoria Garrick had nine assists and 14 digs and was very effective all night on defense. The Trojans as a team had 65 kills on .218, 28 errors, 62 assists, 62 digs, 22 block assists and two block solos. The Trojans were extremely impressive in the fifth set, going for 11 kills on 18 attempts while committing two errors for a .500 hitting percentage.
The Toreros were led by Jayden Kennedy with 16 kills on .204 hitting percentage while Addie Picha, Lauren Fuller, Kaity Edwards each recorded 12 kills. Kristen Gengenbacher had a double double of 51 assists and 19 digs, both of which were the game-highs. As a team, the Toreros had 61 kills on .136, 60 assists, 66 digs, 24 block assists and 2 block solos. However, the team committed 37 errors, including 11 alone in the 4th set, which helped the Trojans.
“[Jayden Kennedy] on the right side is a really fine player,” Haley said. “We were finally able to close her down after a very effective first and second sets. Then, they started going to their middles and the left side, and we had to figure out how to get that under control. Throughout the whole match, I felt our serving was consistently strong and aggressive. I think that’s what eventually wore down [Central Arkansas] yesterday and helped us wear down USD today. I was glad that the committee recognized us with the 10th seed, which I think we were both pretty equal coming in. You look at today’s match and you can see just how back-and-forth it was. Their setter was really good and they certainly did a lot of really nice things, but all-in-all, I think we had more firepower.”
With a hard-fought win over San Diego, who are now eliminated, the 24-9 Women of Troy will now move on to the regional semifinals to play the 7th-seeded (No. 8 on AVCA rankings) Minnesota Golden Gophers (28-5, 15-5 Big Ten Conference) in Gainesville, Florida on Friday. Minnesota overwhelmed North Dakota 3-0 in the first round before taking down Northern Iowa 3-1 to advance to the regional semifinals.