London calling: How the youngest player has the greatest impact

Freshman outside hitter London Wijay is making great strides at 17-years-old.

Freshman outside hitter London Wijay proves that success can be earned at any age as has already secured a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team. (Jordan Renville / Daily Trojan)

A 17-year-old girl looked up at the formidable arches of Heritage Hall, where familiar USC women’s volleyball greats like Debbie Green, April Ross, Alex Jupiter and Samantha Bricio are forever enshrined in history. She looked to add her name to the list. Just a few months ago, she was a junior in high school. Now, she is a member of one of the most prestigious volleyball programs in the country. 

“USC has always been my dream school,” freshman outside hitter London Wijay said. “I just always saw myself here. I love the team.”

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London Wijay had always been surrounded by volleyball. Her mother, Morgan Wijay, played volleyball at the University of Houston before coaching at Bishop Alemany High School and starting Supernova Girls Volleyball Club, one of the biggest volleyball clubs in the San Fernando Valley. 

By age 5, London Wijay was already playing in volleyball tournaments. By age 12, she was playing on 17U teams against girls who were taller, stronger and much older than her. By age 14, she was on Bishop Alemany High School’s women’s volleyball team, one of the best programs in Southern California.  

“We wanted her to be really comfortable hitting against big blocks because we knew she wasn’t going to be super tall,” Morgan Wijay said.

One of the first coaches to recognize London Wijay’s talent was a UCLA men’s volleyball coach named Brad Keller. He had known London Wijay and wanted her on his team since she was 13, at whichever school that might be. 

However, recruiting London Wijay was not straightforward. After winning the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Volleyball Championship and Player of the Year in her sophomore season,  she committed to Texas A&M because she got along with then-Head Coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn. However, when Texas A&M fired Kuhn after the 2022 season, London Wijay decommitted. 

Keller, now the head coach at USC, saw his opportunity. Coming into the 2023 season, the Trojans would be without two of their top three scorers from last season. Outside hitter Jordan Wilson departed for Arizona, while opposite hitter Emilia Weske graduated. Keller needed an offensive spark, but he also wanted London Wijay to play with senior outside hitter Skylar Fields before Fields graduated. London Wijay would be the shortest attacker on the team at 5 feet, 10 inches, but her raw talent cleared any doubts Keller had about her ability.

“When you have someone that is athletic, that can jump and fly like she does and has a pure arm and understands the game because she’s a coach’s kid and has the mentality like she does … it doesn’t matter how tall you are,” Keller said. “You’re a winner. You’re a competitor.”

So, he made a daring proposal to London Wijay: skip her senior year of high school and play in the same building where she watched Bricio play years before.

“That’s when we kind of thought [Keller] was crazy,” Morgan Wijay said.

It was a difficult choice for London Wijay. She would be giving up her senior activities, a chance to win a third straight CIF-SS championship with Alemany, and an opportunity to develop her skills further at the high school level. After giving it some thought, London Wijay decided in July that she would take her talents to USC.

“It was so spontaneous for me to do,” she said. “ Not many people have this opportunity. I really wanted to capitalize on it.”

She had just weeks to prepare for a completely new experience with a new team in a new place. It was during this time that she formed a strong bond with Fields. 

“She was super shy, super quiet, but I really got to get to know her and open her up,” Fields said. “And that has really helped our relationship grow. We have big sisters-little sisters on the team. I’m her big sister, and she’s my little sister.”

London Wijay made her collegiate debut against Houston on Aug. 25, but her breakout performance came three weeks later against then-No. 17 Purdue. Against a future conference rival, London Wijay recorded 18 kills, netting her a Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award. A few days later, she scored a game-leading 24 kills against crosstown rival UCLA, guiding her team to a 3-2 victory. 

“Those two wins were really fun with my team,” London Wijay said. “We, as a team, always go to five [sets], but we always pull out a win. When we want to win, you know we want to win.”

And she’s doing it all at just 17, a fact that brings a smile to her face every time she is reminded of it.

“[My teammates] treat me like I’m their child,” London Wijay said. “And it’s really funny because they’re all like my mom and older sisters.” 

After dealing with an injury in the middle of the season, London Wijay has continued to prove herself against strong opponents, leading the team in kills against ranked opponents like Oregon and Stanford. 

After winning a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, London Wijay wants to win a national championship and even pursue a career in real estate development. But the most important thing for her is to work hard every day.

“Not everything you do is going to be acknowledged,” she said. “You’re not going to get the awards. You’re not going to accomplish one goal, but every day, you’re getting better. That’s the goal I want — to know that I gave 100% every day.”

As London Wijay and her team head into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Friday, Keller said her courage and determination are endless.

“I call her an assassin,” Keller said. “She does not fear anything.”

USC might not be the No. 1 seed in the tournament, but that hasn’t stopped London Wijay before, and it won’t stop her now.

“I feel like I’m an underdog,” she said. “I’ve always been a part of underdog teams. I’m short as an outside hitter, so I’ve always been proving I can do it and wanting to win at all costs.” 

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