USC bounces back from defeat with back-to-back wins

USC women's volleyball players exclaim and celebrate together after winning a point in a match.
The Trojans celebrate after winning a point against the University of Denver. USC fell in five sets to Denver in its season opener but finished the tournament with two wins following the loss. (Simon Park | Daily Trojan)

Women’s volleyball won two of their three games in the Trojan Invitational this weekend after dropping a heartbreaker to the University of Denver in the season opener Friday. 

The Trojans fought through five sets but ultimately lost by a score of 26-24, 15-25, 25-20, 22-25 and 15-11. The Pioneers also defeated Cal State University, Northridge 3-0 earlier that day.

The Trojans easily won the second set of Friday’s game but were handled in the third and fifth sets, sealing an upset victory for Denver. The Pioneers went 14-3 last season and clearly have not lost a step. Denver also swept Campbell University, sealing a perfect 3-0 record for the Pioneers in the Trojan Invitational. 

“I think we were just kind of [at] a loss the entire night, just always trying to find rhythm that never seemed to be there,” head coach Brad Keller said after the loss. “I think that we played tentative[ly] tonight, and I actually think that that’s because we didn’t [prepare] them well enough as a coaching staff. We did not get them ready for what this actually was, and that’s on us.”

This was USC’s first game with fans in Galen Center since Nov. 29, 2019, when the Trojans lost to UCLA to close out the regular season. The atmosphere of the crowd made an impact on graduate senior captain and outside hitter Brooke Botkin. 

“We were scared, and we should have beat them. That’s the bottom line,” Botkin said after the game against Denver. “This is the first time we’ve played in front of a crowd [since 2019]. I haven’t had that much loudness around me in almost the entire year. I think we kind of broke down fundamentally. We just started to play scramble volleyball, and we were just nervous to lose instead of wanting to beat them.”

Botkin played well against the Pioneers, tallying 13 kills and 7 digs. Junior opposite hitter Emilia Weske led the team in kills with 19, but it wasn’t enough to earn the win.

Despite the tough loss to Denver, the Trojans rallied the following day and swept both Campbell and CSUN 3-0, ending the tournament with a 2-1 record. Botkin led the team in kills in both games.

“As a leader, I just want to [set by example], so I want to go out there and give it my 100%,” Botkin said. “This match was a huge a learning curve. We go back, we watch film, we break down everything we did wrong [and] what we can do better at, and that should motivate us.”

After opening play this weekend, Keller is optimistic about his team’s potential and is excited to watch them develop as players throughout the season.

 “I think we’re only scratching the surface of what this team can do,’’ Keller said. “If we can get there mentally and [if] we [can] understand how tough it’s
really going to be and the barrage of stuff that we’re going to have to go through, then I think that this team can actually do some pretty great things. We have a deep bench this time.”

The Trojans will now prepare to face Northern Iowa, Creighton and defending national champion No. 3 ranked Kentucky in the Bluegrass Battle next weekend in Lexington, Ky. 

Play will begin against the Panthers on Friday at 7:30 a.m., which will be followed by a matchup against the Blue Jays at 2 p.m. Both games can be streamed on ESPN3. The marquee matchup against No. 3 Kentucky will tip off Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and will air on SEC Network Plus.