Women’s volleyball encounters difficult matchups

The USC women's volleyball team hugs each other after a point.
The Trojans celebrate a point during their match against the University of San Diego last week. The Trojans are currently 5-6, 1-1 in the Pac-12 with matchups against four nationally ranked schools upcoming. (Gina Nguyen | Daily Trojan)

The women’s volleyball team cruised to a solid 3-1 victory over the University of California, Berkeley on the road Sunday. USC won in three sets, with the final score eclipsing 25-21, 25-21, 18-25, 25-9. The Trojans now sit at 5-6 overall and are 1-1 against Pac-12 opponents. With conference play in full swing, here are the five most important games to look forward to as the season unfolds for USC.

Away at Washington State University on Oct. 1

The Trojans will travel to Pullman, Wash. Friday for what will be their first true conference road test of the season. Washington State started off their season 0-4, but, since then, they have won eight straight games, including two huge victories against in-conference opponents No. 24 University of Colorado Boulder and No. 6 University of Washington. 

The Cougars swept the Buffaloes and then defeated their in-state archrival in five sets. This team is surging and has a ton of momentum, and it will be a big challenge for head coach Brad Keller and his team to get the victory on the road. If the Trojans succeed, however, it would be the team’s biggest win so far and could spark a turning point in the season.

At home versus No. 19 University of Utah on Oct. 8

The Utes are another team who boast a victory against Washington, defeating them in five sets Sept. 22. They also defeated No. 3 Nebraska before conference play Sept. 11. 

However, their latest game was a loss against No. 24 Colorado in straight sets, dropping their record to 8-3. The Trojans haven’t beat the Utes since 2017, but this home game will be a great opportunity to break that ugly streak. 

At home versus No. 13 University of Washington on Oct. 29

Washington started off the season ranked No. 4 in the AVCA poll, but have lost their last two matches to Utah and Washington State, both in five sets. Their other defeat this season came to No. 8 Ohio State University on Aug. 28. 

Despite these tough losses, the Huskies still rank No. 13 in the country with a respectable 7-3 record. Junior outside hitter Claire Hoffman has been terrific for Washington so far this season and leads the team in kills with 117. 

Away at No. 11 University of Oregon on Nov. 12

Sitting at No. 11, Oregon is currently the highest ranked Pac-12 team , making them the team to beat in the conference. Oregon has started this season 11-1, with their only loss against No. 13 Minnesota. 

Star setter Elise Ferreira and outside hitter/libero Brooke Nuneviller have fueled the Ducks. Ferreira has tallied a whopping 290 assists, and Nuneviller has posted 132 kills — both of which are team highs. Last season, USC lost back-to-back heartbreaking five set matches against Oregon. On Nov. 12, the Trojans will have a chance to get their revenge in Eugene. 

At home versus No. 15 UCLA on Nov. 26

The Trojans will close out the regular season in a heated rivalry matchup against the Bruins. Every game against UCLA is important, but this one looks to be especially tough. UCLA started off their season with an impressive 9-1 record, and have strung together a five game win streak that includes a four-set victory over USC last Wednesday. 

The Bruins’ only loss this season has come to the University of San Diego, a school that also beat USC and now ranks No. 25 in the country. Last year, USC’s late-season victory over UCLA sparked a four game win streak, and, for Keller’s sake, hopefully history will repeat

Honorable mentions:

Away versus No. 24 University of Colorado Nov. 5

The Buffs finally cracked the Top 25 and have only posted one loss so far this season to surging Washington State. As always, the altitude in Colorado will present a difficult challenge for the Trojans. Graduate student outside hitter Leah Clayton leads Colorado with 173 kills through 11 games, and a 33.3 kill percentage — third best on the team. 

USC, though, is 20-1 all-time against Colorado, including 11-0 at home.

At home versus no. 17 Stanford on Nov. 24

The Cardinal are currently 6-4, but all of their losses have come against quality opponents: No. 1 Texas, No. 7 Minnesota, defending National Champion No. 6 Kentucky, and No. 15 UCLA. They will be a dangerous Pac-12 rival.