After a rocky 2-3 start this season, USC won all three of its matches at the Trojan Invitational this past weekend at Galen Center. All-American senior outside hitter Khalia Lanier returned from injury Saturday to help the Trojan cause.
The Trojans played without Lanier Friday night and went to five sets with a determined Yale team. Yale came into the match 0-4, so USC was favored to win despite its lackluster season start.
The serve and receive game continued to cause USC issues early in the tournament. The Trojans committed 11 service errors and were aced 13 times against Yale.
Those “free” points helped the Bulldogs win the second and fourth sets. USC committed two crucial service errors at the end of the second set that gave Yale a comfortable advantage. Freshman outside hitter Emilia Weske committed two service errors in the fourth set. Four more errors for the Trojans helped the Bulldogs to an easy 25-18 set win.
Throughout the tournament, Weske’s youth showed — she ended up committing eight service errors.
“Some of it is a little fatigue,” said head coach Brent Crouch. “We had the five-setter last night. Emilia is a really aggressive server, and she still scored points for us even when she’s missing. When she’s hitting it in, we are winning a lot of points, but we need to get her error rate down a little bit.”
A couple of bright spots from the weekend were senior middle blocker Jasmine Gross and the overall blocking effort by USC’s front row.
Gross was named tournament MVP after hitting .615 over the weekend. She shined in the Trojans’ most dominant performance of the season so far against 7-2 Villanova, racking up eight kills on 13 attempts.
As for the blocking game, USC consistently out-blocked its opponents and dominated the game at the net. The Trojans blocked nearly 30 balls to their opponents’ 14.
USC swept a tough Villanova team in dominant fashion. The Trojans held the lead throughout the second and third sets, winning them by 10 and 11 points, respectively.
Following the successful weekend, Crouch is ready for his squad to get some time practicing as a unit. Crouch said he thought every player on the roster saw action at one point during the weekend.
The start of the season has had its ups and downs, but perhaps the Trojans are ready to lock in as they regain their star Lanier and a healthier senior opposite hitter in Emily Baptista.
In Lanier’s first start back against Howard after missing 14 days of practice, her sharpness was tested as the Bison consistently served the ball in her direction.
Baptista and Lanier proved their importance to the Trojans’ service game, providing seven out of the 10 aces in their last game of the tournament.
USC markedly improved over the course of the weekend. This is a good sign as conference play begins in just 10 days with a highly anticipated match against UCLA.
The Trojans will shift their focus to getting healthy and staying healthy. The team’s depth gives it a higher ceiling than in prior years.
“So while we haven’t started clicking yet with the starting group, overall I think because people are getting out there and playing a lot … the team-building part is way more advanced than it was last year,” Couch said.
USC travels to San Diego this week for matchups against San Diego and Long Beach State.