USC and UCLA’s storied crosstown rivalry will be renewed Wednesday when the No. 25 Trojans women’s volleyball team travels to Pauley Pavilion.
The Trojans enter the matchup after an up-and-down weekend in San Diego. USC lost in a hard-fought five-set match to USD then bounced back with a dominant sweep of Long Beach State.
The Trojans have seen their ranking steadily drop from No. 14 all the way to No. 25 after a shaky 6-4 start. Battered with injuries, the talented roster has yet to reach its full potential.
The tilt between USC and UCLA will begin conference play for both teams. UCLA enters the match with a record of 5-4 but is coming off two straight 3-0 defeats.
The Trojans’ current starting rotation still lacks experience and faces various injuries — but head coach Brent Crouch sees a silver lining.
“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,” Crouch said.
Though as the team is fighting through injuries, it is coming closer to full health. Senior opposite hitter Emily Baptista is expected to make her full return this week. Baptista, still recovering from a knee injury, has only played in 10 sets so far this season — all in the Trojan Invitational two weekends ago.
Crouch hopes to have a more consistent rotation once everyone is healthy. Just two players for the Trojans have played in all 39 sets this year: last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year setter Raquel Lázaro and senior middle blocker Jasmine Gross.
This past weekend, Crouch began that process by subbing just four times all match.
“We were really clicking against Long Beach [State], and I didn’t want to disrupt that flow,” Crouch said.
The Trojans can now count on consistent contributions from All-American senior outside hitter Khalia Lanier, who recovered from a concussion suffered earlier in the season. Despite missing two weeks of play, Lanier is third on the team in kills with 92 and has posted a .316 kill rate this season.
The team’s leader in kills, freshman outside hitter Kalen Owes, sat out in the matchup with Long Beach State.
Facing UCLA on the road is always a difficult matchup for any USC team, but the atmosphere at UCLA’s home opener will prove even tougher than usual.
“There’s the challenge of the venue, of the energy that will be for UCLA in that match,” Crouch said. “The emotions that are connected with playing your rival and learning how to play our game despite those distractions will be important, and I think we are getting good at that.”
To prepare for UCLA’s attack, the Trojans are practicing defending against a mix of roll-shots and hard swings. USC struggled to defend this mix of shots against Yale, and UCLA excels at mixing up its hits.
UCLA mostly runs an offense that includes two setters, meaning there are always three hitters available — making the offense difficult to defend.
Though the Bruins run a tricky offense, they have only two hitters with over 50 kills this season compared to five for USC. The Bruins’ leading hitter is junior outside hitter Mac May, an All-American honorable mention last year.
USC went 2-0 against the Bruins in 2018, sweeping them in the first matchup and winning a five-set battle in the second.
“They are going to be fired up to play us,” Crouch said. “We won the last few, but they are always going to be motivated to give us their best.”