Women’s volleyball battles hard, falls to No. 2 Stanford

Amid mistake-filled match, London Wijay and USC rally in absence of Skylar Fields.

Junior outside hitter Katelyn Smith earned two service aces and three digs, bringing her respective season totals to five and 16. (Jordan Renville / Daily Trojan)

USC women’s volleyball team hoped to knock down No. 2 Stanford’s Pac-12 solo title chances Sunday. With the Trojans missing kill leader senior outside hitter Skylar Fields,  freshman outside hitter London Wijay stepped up, leading the team with 12 kills and 15 digs. Despite the hard-fought match, with the first and fourth sets going to overtime a mixture of mistakes by USC and an unrelenting attack from Stanford ultimately resulted in USC losing three of the four sets.

In the first set, the Trojans (18-10, 12-6 Pac-12) rose to an early lead highlighted by a back row kill by sophomore outside hitter Dani Thomas-Nathan, lighting the crowd up. The Trojans maintained a point advantage the majority of the set, but Stanford (24-3, 17-1) wouldn’t let USC pull away. The Cardinal eventually took the lead 20-19, sparking a back and forth with key digs by sophomore libero Gala Trubint, keeping the Trojans ahead. A final backset slide to junior outside hitter Katelyn Smith sealed the set for the Trojans, stealing one from the Pac-12 favorite Stanford in a 28-26 thriller.

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“From a blocking standpoint, we actually put a huge emphasis on the two pins,” said senior middle blocker Lindsey Miller.  “Most of volleyball is honestly about shutting down the outside hitters … Stanford is known for their really good right side [fifth-year opposite hitter Kendall] Kipp.”

Miscues and miscommunication left the Trojans in an early deficit in the second set. With all the momentum Stanford’s way, USC was unable to keep up.

“I think it comes down to playing with belief and playing with pride … when we’re playing with pride and belief, those communication errors don’t happen,” Miller said. “It’s when we break down in those areas that we kind of lose that team identity.”

With the match tied at one set apiece, the Trojans looked to bounce back in the third set. They kept it close, earning a point from a lengthy rally in which Trubint had a diving dig to set up an offspeed kill by Wijay.

The cheers were short-lived as Stanford’s consistent outside attack was enough to pull away, not without a last-ditch run by USC gathering a few points and gaining some momentum before the final 25-15 loss.

“Little communication errors were visible at first … we kind of lost a couple easy plays, a couple plays that we could have turned around,” Trubint said.

The fourth set proved to be a grueling back and forth, with 21 score ties and 13 lead changes. The meat of the game was spent within one score as neither team was able to pull away. Junior setter Mia Tuaniga caught the defense off guard with a kill into the middle of the court putting the Trojans up 22-21.

Kipp responded with a pair of powerful swings and the game was sent to overtime. As the score grew higher, sending the game into a psychological battle. The crowd even affected a game-clinching serve by Stanford, causing a miss into the net.

In the end, it was mistakes made by the Trojans that prevented them from coming away victorious, losing the set 32-30 and the match 3-1.

”I’m proud and frustrated with our team,” said Head Coach Brad Keller. “I thought we played well … and then we do some of the stupidest things, simple communication errors and just bad volleyball play because we’re just not focused enough.”

With the loss, USC moves to 18-10 overall and will travel to face No. 6 Oregon on Tuesday at Matthew Knight Arena.

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