Coming off a narrow loss to Utah, USC women’s volleyball had two commanding victories this past weekend, defeating Oregon State 3-1 before sweeping Oregon 3-0.
The two wins improved the Trojans’ record to 11-7 on the season and 5-3 in conference play, bringing the team to sixth in the Pac-12 standings.
All-American senior outside hitter Khalia Lanier tallied 36 kills throughout the weekend. She became fourth all-time in career kills for USC with 1,705, passing Jasmina Marinkovic, who played from 1995 to 1998.
Due to injuries and player resignations, the Trojans made the trip to Oregon with only nine active players. Freshman libero Keila Barra stepped in as a defensive specialist for the injury-riddled team. She made a career-high nine digs versus Oregon State and continued her breakout weekend with six more digs against Oregon.
“I think Keila Barra did probably one of the best jobs this weekend of … finding her new role,” senior libero Raegan LeGrand said.
While Barra flashed her future potential, LeGrand will maintain her starting libero role after notching 23 digs against Oregon State and 17 digs against Oregon.
After taking over the starting spot Oct. 8, LeGrand has proven to be a huge impact player for the USC defense, totaling 20-plus digs in three games. LeGrand’s defensive efforts have helped USC to a 4-2 record while she has started, with both losses coming in close five-set matches.
Against Oregon, LeGrand made a statement with 12 digs in the first set, which made the Oregon hitter shy away in later sets. As a result, LeGrand had just four digs in the second set and one in the third.
“As the libero, you’re just kind of frustrated because you obviously want them to hit [the ball] to you,” LeGrand said.
Although the Ducks tried to take LeGrand out of the game, her stellar performance opened up other opportunities for her teammates to get involved in the passing game, resulting in double-digit kill games for Lanier and senior middle blocker Jasmine Gross.
LeGrand also pointed out the solid offensive and defensive performance of freshman outside hitter Emilia Weske. Weske had 12 digs to go along with eight kills against Oregon.
One particularly bright spot during the weekend came during Sunday’s first set. Down 19-22, head coach Brent Crouch took a timeout to rally his team for the final points of the set. Out of the timeout, USC won 4 straight points to take the lead and eventually win the game 25-23.
USC’s defense put forth a solid overall effort this weekend. Against Oregon State, the Trojans made 70 digs and stalwarted the Beaver’s hitters, who put up a low .145 hitting percentage. The Ducks hit even worse as the USC defense held them to .136 during the match.
“Something our coach Brent [Crouch] has really instilled in us the past two weeks is we don’t have to do spectacular plays, and we also can’t really afford crazy bad plays,” LeGrand said. “As long as we make consistent good plays, then we are on the right track.”
The Trojans’ only fault defensively was their service defense, as they allowed 11 aces against Oregon and eight against Oregon State.
At the end of the day, USC gained two much-needed Pac-12 wins that will help put the team on the right track as they prepare to face the two top teams in the Pac-12 next weekend: Stanford and Cal.
“These games could really change the rest of the season, and obviously they are two of the best in the conference, but they are also two of the best in the country,” LeGrand said. “I think it can help us with confidence … going forward and showing that we’re here to stay.”
USC has already shown that it can beat a top 10 team after beating then-No. 8 Washington, but to achieve that feat again, the team must maintain more consistency. While they have shown flashes of brilliance, the Trojans have failed to perform to their full potential at times throughout the year, especially with the recent slew of injuries.
Although USC has been having a rough year, this season is far from over. The Trojans have yet to play their second round of conference matches, where they will look to climb up the Pac-12 rankings.