The No. 10 USC women’s volleyball team travels to Milwaukee for the Marquette Invitational, where they will play No. 3 Brigham Young University before taking on No. 25 Marquette and Syracuse.
The Trojans are coming off a somewhat strange three-game stretch at the Bubly Invitational that saw them best No. 4 Florida, led by sophomore outside hitter Brooke Botkin’s 20 kills and 15 digs, before being upset by unranked UCF in four sets. USC bounced back with a clean three-game sweep of Louisville, with Botkin and junior outside hitter Emily Baptista both recording 11 kills apiece. Although both Florida and USC finished 2-1, USC claimed the championship title with their victory acting as the tie breaker. However, the two wins weren’t enough to prevent USC from sliding down three spots in the top 25 rankings.
Freshman setter Raquel Lázaro has been named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the second straight week. In each of the three games, Lázaro had 41, 42 and 38 assists, respectively, while also registering her second double-double of the year against UCF with 10 digs. Junior outside hitter Khalia Lanier was named tournament MVP, with a total of 42 kills and 23 digs. Botkins and Lázaro joined her on the All-Tournament Team.
“[Lanier] and [Botkin] on the outside, and our new setter [Lázaro], just did a great job this weekend,” head coach Brent Crouch said. “I think we’re going to unleash them once we get some new habits in place, different movement patterns, and they figure out how to run the kind of offense we want to run, the defense we want to do. It’s all based on reading, so it takes a little while to figure out the read situations.”
USC’s surprising loss to UCF may be due to them looking ahead to the championship game and overlooking UCF after their excellent win against Florida. With the teams in the Marquette tournament sporting a combined 17-2 record, the Trojans can’t afford to do that again. Crouch said he wants to focus on dictating the flow of the offense to gain control of the game early on.
“We’re trying to run an offense that’s fast, and we’re trying to run it fast from situations that aren’t necessarily perfect,” Crouch said. “What we mean by that is passes that aren’t necessarily perfect right in the net. It’s easy to run a fast offense when you’ve got a perfect first contact. It’s harder when things are being moved around a bit … to be able to have hitters that are able to read those kind of situations and then audible into certain playsets means we can still go fast from everywhere, and we really like that.”
BYU has already begun to show what they’re capable of, with a major win last week in the BYU Nike Invitational that saw the Cougars defeat West Virginia, No. 1 Stanford and Wichita State to maintain a perfect 5-0 record. Senior outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry had a fantastic outing that saw her go for 13 kills and six digs against West Virginia, a 20-kill and 10-dig double-double against Stanford and a match-high 16 kills on a career-best .682 hitting percentage against Wichita State. Jones-Perry was named tournament MVP and the AVCA player of the week for her outstanding performance.
“If we have middle blockers like we have right now in the middle, I think we can get multiple blockers up all over the place, no matter where the set is,” Crouch said, “That piece of the defense is gonna take the longest to get good at, because it’s the most complicated. We started off pretty well already blocking, but I think by the end of the season that’s going to be a major growth area.”