USC travels to Hawaii to face the Rainbow Warriors

Graduate student Paige Hammons, No. 9, is pictured spiking a ball in the air. Other USC players watch on as opposition defenders try to block the spike.
The Trojans concluded last weekend with back-to-back losses to Creighton and Kentucky after defeating Northern Iowa in three sets Friday. They’ll conclude their road trip against Hawaii. (Simon Park | Daily Trojan)

It was a tough weekend for the women’s volleyball team, who dropped two of three games Saturday in the Bluegrass Battle in Lexington, KY. The Trojans were able to sweep Northern Iowa 3-0 on Friday before suffering back-to-back losses to Creighton and Kentucky. USC handled the Panthers 26-24, 25-20, 25-12 and now sit at 3-3 overall.

The Trojans’ next opponent will take them to Honolulu, where they will face Hawaii in back-to-back games over the weekend. The matchup is featured as the “Outrigger Volleyball Series.” 

Hawaii started off its season 2-4, having lost to, Utah Valley, San Diego and Utah. However, the Rainbow Warriors boasted a 3-0 sweep against Texas A&M. 

Unlike the Trojans, Hawaii’s 2020 volleyball season was canceled by its conference, the Big West. The last game the Rainbow Warriors played before this season was a three-set NCAA Tournament loss against Nebraska during the round of 16 in Dec. 2019.

The last time the Trojans played Hawaii was five years ago in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, where the Rainbow Warriors won a five-set thriller by a score of 25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 16-25, 15-13. Hawaii was ranked no. 12 at the time.

Freshman setter Mia Tuaniga is proving herself to be an important rotation piece off the bench for USC, and has a lethal serve that can swing the momentum of a set with one touch. Against the Panthers alone, Tuaniga tallied four service aces and has totaled seven so far this season.

Senior setter Raquel Lazaro has also been on a tear, recording the team’s first double-double of the season against Northern Iowa. She finished the game with 23 assists, 11 digs, three blocks and one service ace. Lazaro currently leads the team in assists with 111, and her impact on the Trojans’ success is not lost on her teammates.

“Raquel is a little ray of sunshine,” senior captain outside hitter Brooke Botkin said. “She brings a sense of calmness when things are kind of shaky. She brings a lot of energy to the court. When we lose a couple points, she’s there to pick us up. She brings a lot of energy to the team, and I think it really helps us.”

Despite the two crushing defeats in the Bluegrass Battle, Botkin also shined as per usual, leading the Trojans in kills in all three games. Throughout the weekend, Botkin tallied 48 total kills and had 24 against UNI alone.

“Brooke is phenomenal,” Keller said. “She’s decided to buy all in, and she’s one of the hardest working kids in there. She never complains. She’s a badass. We need that here, and she’s going to be a really important part of what we’re doing.”

Although this is his first meeting against Hawaii as the head coach of the Trojans, Keller is no stranger to the Rainbow Warriors. In 2019, when Keller was an assistant coach for UCLA, the two teams squared off in Honolulu. Hawaii swept the Bruins in three sets by a score of 25-15, 25-22, 25-23.

For the Rainbow Warriors, redshirt senior outside hitter Brooke Van Sickle will look to continue her stellar season in the matchup against the Trojans. Van Sickle currently leads the team with 92 kills and 11 service aces.

The first game against Hawaii will tip off on Friday and the second on Saturday. Both games will start at 10 p.m.