USC falls short to University of San Diego in five sets

USC outside hitter Brooke Botkin attempt a spike while two defenders get ready to block it away.
Graduate student outside hitter Brooke Botkin attempts a spike during the Trojans loss against the Toreros Friday. USC will open conference play against UCLA Wednesday. (Gina Nguyen | Daily Trojan)

The USC women’s volleyball team fell in five sets against the University of San Diego Friday in their final preseason matchup before Pac-12 conference play. The Trojans battled to a
tie-breaking fifth set but were unable to close out the match, ending the score 3-2 in favor of the Toreros (25-22, 20-25, 13-25, 25-19, 15-13). 

USC now enters Pac-12 play with a record of 4-5.

The Trojans led for the majority of the first set. However, forced and unforced errors enabled the Toreros to take the lead and eventually the set. USC then regrouped and refocused on the match by strengthening their defensive and offensive presence. With a hitting percentage of .250 for the second set and .424 for the third set, San Diego was unable to respond, and both sets went to the Trojans.

In the fourth set, USC wavered a few moments, which the Toreros capitalized. With trouble on the Trojans offensive end, San Diego took the set, and the match headed to a tie-breaker. 

Then the race to the final point began as both teams left it all out on the court. With the momentum on their side, San Diego built a lead on USC; but, with big swings from graduate student middle blocker Candice Denny and junior opposite hitter Emilia Weske, the Trojans stayed in the match. Yet, despite their efforts, the Toreros were able to pull away in the final points, ending the set with the score of 15-13.        

“The fifth set is always going to be a ‘crapshoot,’” said head coach Brad Keller in a postgame press conference. “It’s not a real game; it’s a race at that point … we dug a four-point hole … you’re really in a tight situation.”

Despite the outcome of the match, Denny said she hopes the Trojans will face the Toreros again in the future.        

“At the end, [San Diego] just barely edged by, but I’m happy with how close we were. I know the next time we see them on the court, it’s probably not going to be so close, and it will be in our favor,” Denny said. “Tonight I can honestly say we finally clicked into place as a team. So, I think, from this point forward, we’re going to start putting the pressure on people; We’re not easing up.”

After USC’s loss to San Diego, nothing else lies in-between the Trojans and the Pac-12 conference. However, with heavy-hitter programs like No. 16 Stanford and No. 13 Oregon on their schedule, Keller plans to take things one step at a time.

“We’ll just take it day by day,” Keller said. “We’ll break down film, look at certain things, come up with drills and have conversations and build it brick by brick. That’s just what we have to do.”

The Trojans now have crosstown rival UCLA next up on the schedule in Pauley Pavilion Sept. 22. Keller emphasized that improvement still needs to happen before they are on the court again.

“It’s always going to be about small, little things. Every single player on this team has their own laundry list of stuff they have to work on that will help put them in better spots on the court,” he said. “Now do I expect everyone to be perfect at it after a week or so? No, it’s a process, that’s why we’re working on it. But I think that from Hawaii to now, we improved in a lot of those areas, so I expect us to continue to improve on those things.”  

The Trojans start their Pac-12 opener against UCLA Wednesday at 7 p.m.