Is women’s volleyball ready for the bright lights?

The Trojans went into Big Ten country and came away with two wins.

Fans supported women’s volleyball in a “Gold Out” when they played their first home match of the season at Galen Center. (Ana Hunter)

Of all USC fall sports, women’s volleyball might face the toughest transition as it moves into the Big Ten.

In last week’s AVCA rankings, six schools in the Big Ten conference were featured in the Top 25, the most of any conference. Three of those Big Ten schools were ranked in the top nine, again most of any conference.

And now, the conference will only be getting stronger as all four schools entering next August — USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington — were either ranked or received votes in last week’s AVCA rankings.

For a USC team that will likely be without its best player, senior outside hitter Skylar Fields, who is second in Division I with 5.30 kills per set so far this year, joining the Big Ten is a daunting task.

But despite all of the statistics that reveal the high caliber of Big Ten volleyball, the Trojans showed they can compete with the best of the best when they took down Illinois and then upset No. 17 Purdue in four sets over the weekend.

Big Ten volleyball poses two big issues for the Trojans, though, and they didn’t have to fully face one of those problems this weekend. It’s not only the strength of play but the clear home-court advantage that makes Big Ten volleyball so scary, as Big Ten fans are known for showing up to volleyball games like no other conference.

Earlier this season, Nebraska hosted a game in Memorial Stadium, where the football team usually plays, and set a world record for attendance at a women’s sporting event with 92,003 watching the Cornhuskers take down Omaha in three sets.

Similar to the AVCA rankings, five Big Ten schools are in the top 15 of average attendance at women’s volleyball games this season, with the rankings measuring all games through Sept. 15. No other conference has more than two schools in the top 15.

This might seem like a non-issue since the Trojans just went on the road and took down two Big Ten programs, but the highest attendance at either of those games — against the tournament host Purdue — was 2,415, relatively close to USC’s average attendance last season of 1,262.

But two of USC’s four losses this season have been on the road against the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine, with the other two defeats coming at the hands of ranked opponents. While Hawai’i is a good team — it was ranked No. 23 in the Week 2 AVCA poll — the large crowds certainly were a factor in USC losing.

In the first matchup Aug. 31, the Trojans fell to the Rainbow Wahine in five sets with 5,475 fans in attendance. Just a few days later, on Sept. 2, the result was even worse as 7,282 fans saw USC lose in a mere four sets to Hawai’i.

This issue is not isolated to this season. Since 2019, USC has a record of 6-14 in away games with more than 2,000 people in attendance.

The Trojans still have 20 more matchups this season to get used to playing in front of large crowds before they play in front of them on the regular in the Big Ten. However, only three of their road matchups in Pac-12 play will be against teams who currently rank in the top 40 for average attendance, and none of those matchups are against teams in the top 15 of that ranking.

This is not to say USC doesn’t have the talent to compete in the Big Ten. Young players like sophomore libero Gala Trubint, sophomore middle blocker Rylie McGinest and freshman outside hitter London Wijay were all ranked as top-100 recruits in their respective recruiting classes. On top of that, USC’s winning percentage has improved in each of the three seasons under Head Coach Brad Keller as he looks to improve on a 22-11 record from last season in his fourth year as the head coach.

Still, the Trojans will need to have stronger performances under bright lights if they want to regularly compete for a top spot in the Big Ten.

Thomas Johnson is a junior writing about USC’s move to a new conference and all of the implications surrounding the transition in his column, “Big Ten Bites,” which runs every other Monday.

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