USC sets eyes on UCLA after tough losses at Washington

Senior outside hitter Brooke Botkin put up serious numbers offensively in the Trojans’ last match against Washington (Beth Mosch | Daily Trojan)

After a February hiatus from play due to positive coronavirus tests within the program and two tough defeats to No. 8 Washington Huskies, the women’s volleyball team looks to bounce back against the No. 15 UCLA Bruins. 

USC missed six matches this season due to coronavirus-related cancellations. The Trojans suffered back-to-back losses in Seattle, the first March 12 by a score of 25-23, 19-25, 24-26, 21-25 and 15-12. This has been a theme for the team all season — struggling to close out five set matches that come down to the wire. Unfortunately, USC’s second match against the Washington Huskies wasn’t as competitive, ending in a final score of 25-16, 26-24 and 25-15, respectively.

The Trojans must now prepare for two matches this weekend against their crosstown rival, the first at Galen Center on Friday and the second at Pauley Pavillion Sunday.

The Bruins have compiled an impressive 11-5 record this season but recently fell to No. 9 ranked Utah this past Sunday 1-3 after a two match weekend. However, UCLA was able to beat the Utes March 12 in a 3-1 match. This is a feat that the Trojans could not accomplish after being swept by Utah in Salt Lake City in February. 

UCLA senior outside hitter Mac May currently ranks second in the Pac-12 in points scored and kills made per set. For the Trojans, senior outside hitter Brooke Botkin continues to be the leader of the team. Botkin led USC with 19 kills in the Trojans’ first match against Washington this past Friday. Junior outside hitter Brooklyn Schirmer has emerged as a key player as well, totaling seven kills, five digs and a block in the same game. Botkin and Schirmer will continue to anchor the offense this weekend against the Bruins. 

Head coach Brad Keller emphasized the need to strengthen their serving to allow offense the chance to finish a point.

“Obviously, I think that we need to continually stress and get better at serving and passing,” Keller said. “I know that’s such a ‘Water is wet’ statement, but we do want to have and crank up service pressure. No, I don’t want to miss 42 serves in a weekend, but in order to learn and to get to that space, you have to push that boundary. I think we’re getting better at that.”

Keller, who is in his first season as head coach of the Trojans, is no stranger to the UCLA Volleyball program. Before accepting the position, Keller was the associate head coach at UCLA for the 2019 season, where he helped lead the Bruins to a 19-12 record and an appearance in the NCAA tournament. Before that, he spent six years as an assistant coach for the UCLA men’s volleyball team.

As far as the Trojan’s defense, Keller said he is confident it will come together to set up hitters.

“Passing is going to come in time,” Keller said. “We’ve changed a lot of their technique, fundamentals and all of those things. The systems that we’re running are different. I’d like to continue working on those systems and get better at them.” 

The first match will start Friday at 8 p.m. and the second match will start Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Both matches will air live on the Pac-12 Network.