After back-to-back Final Four appearances, the No. 5 USC women’s volleyball team will look to make it three years in a row as it is again poised for a deep postseason run.
“Every year, our expectation is to get back to the Final Four and win,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “We’ve been to the Final Four seven times in the [past 11 seasons], which is more than any other team in the country. We want to win a national championship. We know realistically we can’t win every year, but we’re going to try and see how far we can get.”
Though the Women of Troy have produced a decade of excellent on-court performance, it will be 10 years this season since they last held up that NCAA championship trophy. After consecutive national titles in 2003 and 2002, each new season brings lofty expectations.
The 2012 squad heads into the year ranked fifth in the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, despite losing three All-Americans to graduation.
Among the departed are middle hitter Lauren Williams, Pac-12 Setter of the Year Kendall Bateman and, maybe most importantly, AVCA National Player of the Year outside hitter Alex Jupiter.
Haley will have a difficult time replacing Jupiter, who holds the USC all-time record for career kills (1,918) and points (2,255.5), and Bateman, who was widely considered the heart and soul of the 2011 squad.
Though the losses are great, USC, like any major athletic powerhouse, can recover very quickly; the presence of junior All-American libero Natalie Hagglund and senior outside Katie Fuller will help cushion the blow.
“[Fuller], a senior and one of our captains, is really trying to step it up. She produced a large number of points for us last year and should be a primary candidate for All-American this year,” Haley said. “Hagglund is back, and those two kids are really driving us.”
In addition to the two headliners, the Women of Troy will be bolstered by a veteran supporting cast.
“We have a lot to build around with our junior class,” Haley said. “We have [outside hitter] Sara Shaw, who’s one of the best passers in the country, and [middle blocker] Alexis Olgard, who’s pretty intimidating patrolling the middle.”
Slowed by mononucleosis early last season, Olgard came on strong during USC’s postseason push and impressed during its tournament run. With a full summer under her belt, the rest of the Pac-12 should be very wary come the regular season.
An infusion of incoming talent should also help supplement the hungry upperclassmen intent on winning it all. One early camp surprise, according to Haley, has been 17-year-old freshman outside hitter Samantha Bricio, who hails from Guadalajara, Mexico and stands at 6-foot-2.
“We do have a lot of talent,” Haley said. “We’re very physical this year, and I think by the middle of October we can be pretty darn good.”