With old and new faces on the court, the USC women’s volleyball team will return this season on quest to win a seventh NCAA championship.
USC lost five seniors last year including two of its top point leaders in opposite hitters Brittany Abercrombie and Niki Withers. Recently, Abercrombie qualified for the 25-player preliminary U.S. Women’s National Team roster and represented USC on the preliminary team along with associate head coach JJ Van Niel, who served as an assistant coach for the United States. Other seniors to depart the team include former captain and middle blocker Jordan Dunn and defensive specialist Nikki Leonard.
During the offseason, USC announced the hiring of Brent Crouch, who previously served as head coach of the University of Portland women’s volleyball team. Crouch is credited with turning the program around and was named the West Coast Conference Coach of the Year in 2016 when he led the Pilots to a 17-13 record after the team went winless only a few years before.
Crouch takes the reins from Mick Haley, who was fired after a 17 years at the University. Haley’s stint included national championships in 2002 and 2003. After getting fired, the 74-year-old AVCA Hall of Famer filed a legal case against USC, claiming that he was discriminated against because of his age.
In his first year at the helm, Crouch will look to incorporate five freshmen and a junior transfer. One of these freshman who could contribute early is Ashley Humphreys. The 5-foot-11 setter from Newport Beach was a two-time All-Orange County selection and helped lead Corona Del Mar High School through three remarkable seasons. She joins junior Cindy Marina and fellow incoming freshman Raquel Lazaro as setters on the roster. The rest of the freshmen newcomers include Brooklyn Schirmer, Abby Hansen and Siena Secrist. Jasmine Gross, a third-year player who spent the last two seasons at Pepperdine, rounds out the reinforcements.
Despite the coaching and player overhaul, USC will need to rely on a few familiar faces to carry the load.
Junior outside hitter Khalia Lanier is slated to once again shoulder a huge load for the Women of Troy. The 2017 AVCA and Volleyball Magazine First Team All-American was integral in USC’s run last season, finishing in the top five in kills, points and aces in the Pac-12. Alongside Lanier, USC will also once again lean on senior libero Victoria Garrick. The former Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week started 34 out of the 35 matches last year and led USC with 519 digs last season.
USC’s first tests of the season will begin at the Galen Center for the Trojan Invitational on Aug. 24. Their first opponent will be a clash against a Kentucky Wildcats squad that was chosen as the favorite to win the SEC by its league’s coaches and three preseason All-SEC selections in Leah Edmond, Madison Lilley and Avery Skinner. Other important matchups include a rematch from last year’s NCAA regional final with the Florida Gators on Aug. 31 in Gainesville, Fla. and showdowns with Stanford, Washington and UCLA, all of which finished in the top 15 of the AVCA Coaches Poll last season.