The No. 14 USC women’s volleyball team was defeated by No. 23 Washington State Friday 3-2 in Pullman, Wash.
The Cougars staged a comeback in the fifth set, returning from a 12-8 deficit to win 18-16 and outlast the Trojans. After dropping the first set 25-16, the Trojans bounced back and took the second set 25-21. USC fell behind again, dropping the third set 25-23, but again tied it up with a victory in the fourth set by the same score.
Outside hitters junior Khalia Lanier and sophomore Brooke Botkin led the Trojans with 19 and 17 kills, respectively. It was Cougar senior outside hitter McKenna Woodford who proved to be a problem all night for the Trojans, with 23 kills — 9 more than the Cougars’ next leader, sophomore outside hitter Penny Tusa.
“[Woodford is] just more physical,” head coach Brent Crouch said after the game. “We had a matchup going [into] the first set that wasn’t a good matchup; we had our setter blocking her. That was not a good way to start, so that first set went the way it did.”
Woodford had six kills in the first set as the Cougars hit .333.
Despite changing up the matchup on Woodford after the first set, USC was unable to stop her.
“Then we matched up [junior outside hitter] Emily Baptista on her, and she did a really nice job,” Crouch said. “But there’s just a physical difference. [Baptista is] six-foot-one and McKenna is six-foot-five. She took some good high swings at the end of the game.”
Crouch said Washington State threw USC some challenges throughout the game that were difficult to adjust to.
“They’ve got some good middles, and their right-side player is a converted middle, so they were running a lot of interesting, quick slide combination plays that [are] hard to run unless you’ve got a bunch of middles on the court [at] the same time,” Crouch said. “When they passed up to the net they were really tough to deal with, and they ran some patterns that were difficult. It was hard to read, and that was a new challenge for us.”
The match was the Trojans’ fourth in seven days — their third different city in the last week — and their third in a row against a ranked opponent.
“It’d be hard to say [fatigue] wasn’t a factor, but it wasn’t obvious watching. The effort level was there, the energy level was there, but we had a bunch of errors and sometimes that’s an indication of being tired,” Crouch said.
Along with fatigue, Crouch attributed the team’s errors to a lack of practice time, due to the heavy schedule the past few days.
“We haven’t had a chance to practice much the last week because of all these games in a row and traveling, and we’re trying to keep them healthy,” Crouch said. “I thought our offense was not running really well tonight, and we just haven’t practiced it.”
USC’s schedule will lighten up from here. The Trojans don’t have another match until Friday, and Crouch is looking forward to using the upcoming off week to get his team rolling again.
“We need to dial the offense back in this coming week,” Crouch said. “It’s great we’ve got four days of practice in a row before we play on Friday.”
But not all was lost for the Trojans in Friday’s effort, according to Crouch.
“At times, especially in the second through the fourth set, we were serving as well as I’ve ever seen us serve — just really tough serves,” Crouch said. “Those ones that we missed at the end, I think we were just a little jacked up, we were hitting them long.”
The Trojans look to build on these strengths in their off week and come out fresh on Friday for a home game at 7 p.m. against Stanford.