The USC women’s volleyball team hosts No. 15 Cal and No. 2 Stanford — according to NCAA’s AVCA Coaches’ rankings — this weekend at the Galen Center.
The Trojans face the 17-1 Bears Friday night before taking on the 13-3 powerhouse Cardinal Sunday afternoon.
This weekend is an opportunity for a USC team that entered the season with high expectations to right the ship after what has been a disappointing start. USC still has hopes of competing for the Pac-12 title and making a run deep into the NCAA tournament.
Six of the Trojans’ seven losses have been to teams currently ranked in the Top 25. The only other loss USC has suffered so far was a five-set loss to UCLA. The Trojans have just one win against a ranked team — a four-set victory over No. 9 Washington at the end of September.
The tough early schedule may prove to be an advantage for USC as conference play continues. USC will have more experience against top-level talent than other teams who played an easier schedule before Pac-12 competition.
Cal has faced just three ranked teams so far this season, losing to Stanford 3-1 and beating Washington State and Utah in five sets.
The Trojans bring momentum into this weekend’s matches after defeating Oregon State 3-1 and sweeping Oregon last weekend.
“The offense is coming along,” head coach Brent Crouch said. “In both those matches we were able to hold both those teams to fairly low hitting efficiencies, and that is starting to look better, the defense is really starting to look better.”
USC’s defense at the net has been a consistent advantage for the team. The Trojans have 186.5 total blocks this season while their opponents have 133.5.
Strong defense will be important when facing a tough middle-hitting team in the Bears. Cal relies heavily on two middle blockers, senior Savannah Rennie and junior Preslie Anderson.
“[The Bears] have got exceptional middle attackers, and when they are able to pass well, they can get the ball to them; they are really really physical and really good,” Crouch said. “If we can serve them and keep them off the net a little bit, that will help us a lot.”
Every service for the Trojans is essential; if the Bears can make accurate passes off the serve, they will be able to set up their powerful middles for easy scores. USC will need to maximize service opportunities from freshman outside hitter Emilia Weske and sophomore setter Raquel Lázaro — two of the team’s most potent servers.
“I think if we can win the serve pass battle versus Cal, our pins our better than theirs, we are better at the antennas than they are,” Crouch said.
Facing Stanford poses a tougher challenge for the Trojans. Stanford is the reigning NCAA champion but has shown a slight regression this season. The Cardinal have three losses, but each of those came against teams ranked in the top 12.
“Stanford is a little bit more stacked all the way around, so that’ll challenge us all over the floor,” Crouch said. “So we will have to play our best to beat them.”
Sunday will be a battle of two of the conference’s best players. Stanford senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer leads the Pac-12 with 5.18 kills per set. USC senior outside hitter Khalia Lanier is fourth in the conference in that category with 4.39 kills per set.
The Cardinal have won the past six matchups against USC and have not lost to an unranked opponent since October 2016.
First serve against Cal is at 8 p.m. before Stanford visits for a 1 p.m. start Sunday.