Volleyball returns to Galen Center for Trojan Invitational

Opposite Emily Baptista spikes the ball against Creighton. Baptista is one of the seniors who will be absent this weekend due to injury. (Daily Trojan file photo)

After a disappointing weekend that saw the Trojans go 1-2 in Iowa, the USC women’s volleyball team will battle this weekend with Yale, Howard and Villanova at the Trojan Invitational.

After injuries to star seniors outside hitter Khalia Lanier and opposite Emily Baptista, USC is off to a tough start. However, even with the struggles, head coach Brent Crouch is taking a positive attitude into the rest of the season.

“I see us becoming better at what we’re trying to do,” Crouch said. “We are going to stay the course and get comfortable with doing what we do.”

Lanier and Baptista are not easily replaceable, but while their returns for the weekend are questionable, Crouch is not breaking a sweat.

“Whether Khalia and Emily are back or not, I expect we roll with the same lineup we had last weekend and to go 3-0 [this weekend],” Crouch said.

Despite finishing their 2018 season at 19-5 overall, Yale has also gotten off to a slow start, dropping all of its first three games of the season. Both teams are in similar positions after losing key veteran players. 

Though it hasn’t won a match this season, Yale has an impressive kill rate, and USC must continue to play well on defense this weekend. 

Specifically, the Trojans must limit their errors, and it will be essential not to let first home game nerves get in the way.

Last weekend, the team struggled to score enough kills. Crouch said it has to improve that this week — especially against Howard, whom the Trojans will play in the second game this weekend. 

“We need to get more kills, and we are working a lot on offense this week and fine tuning,” Crouch said. “Nothing major, just getting the speed of our offense correct and a little faster.”

One way USC can overcome the 2-6 Bisons is by taking advantage of their errors. Howard has already made 185 errors this season with almost twice as many serving errors as their opponents. Crouch said possible ‘freebies’ from Bison errors could go a long way in helping USC win.  

“If we can play clean volleyball, and Howard wants to give us free points through their errors, well, we’ll take it,” he said.  

USC will wrap up the Trojan Invitational with Villanova, who began this season 5-1 and should provide tough competition. So far, the Wildcats have 279 kills on the season and have six players who already have more than 25 kills this year. 

The Trojans’ rocky start to the 2019 campaign has  seen them drop from No. 12 to 20 in the NCAA rankings. The team itself is not concerned with its ranking drop as USC has been playing with a hobbled lineup, and its low ranking will give it an underdog mentality for the foreseeable future. 

Although the competition is tough, the team is thrilled to play at home. The schools are not exactly rivals, but all are traditionally successful programs. Crouch hopes for a full house for every game at the Invitational. 

“We’d love to have our opening weekend packed this weekend,” he said. “It will be good volleyball going on, so hopefully people come out and pack that place up.”

The tournament begins this weekend on Friday and will run through Saturday. All games will take place at the Galen Center.