No. 1 USC travels to play Oregon schools


Almost exactly two years ago, the USC women’s volleyball team took a road trip to Oregon State and Oregon and returned home without losing a single set. This year, with some of the same players from that 2011 trip, the Women of Troy hope to duplicate the results and keep their winning streak alive.

USC, who regained the No. 1 spot in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll this week and are ranked No. 2 in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball RPI, has won eight consecutive matches and now boasts a 14-1 record (4-0 in the Pac-12). With nonconference play now over for the rest of the regular season, the Women of Troy are in the middle of a 20-match slate against Pac-12 opponents. This weekend, the squad will get its first look at the Oregon State Beavers and the No. 22 Oregon Ducks.

Instant impact · Freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu has been honored twice already this season as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. She ranks second among USC’s regular starters in kills per set (3.18). Nick Entin | Daily Trojan

Instant impact · Freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu has been honored twice already this season as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. She ranks second among USC’s regular starters in kills per set (3.18).
Nick Entin | Daily Trojan

So far, the Women of Troy have won all of its matches at the Galen Center, but the team’s capability of playing in true road games is relatively untested. Even though USC started its season with nine consecutive matches away from home, only four were played against opponents in their home arenas. And in one of those instances, against San Diego, the Women of Troy suffered their lone loss of the season.

USC head coach Mick Haley said he understands the importance of capturing these early road matches.

“In this conference, people really hold their home-court advantage,” Haley said. “That’s your only chance to survive in the conference. When you get a chance to play at home and you don’t hold that home-court advantage, it really puts you on the defensive.”

The team will have a chance to put both of their opponents this weekend in a deep hole, as the Beavers have already lost their first four Pac-12 matches, and the Ducks have fallen in two of their first four, including one at home in Eugene.

On the flip side, USC has been seemingly unstoppable during the past few weeks. After losing to USD on Sept. 13, the team has rattled off eight straight wins. Two of those opponents — UCLA and Stanford — are currently ranked in the top 25.

Senior libero Natalie Hagglund credits the recent success to the combination of veteran leadership and superb freshman play.

“It’s been really important to stay patient,” Hagglund said. “We have some young players who are making an extreme impact with us and some older players who are making a great impact as well. We’re able to gel together with that age difference and understand that our freshmen are still freshmen, yet they are such important factors for us and our success.”

The team has not only improved their individual play throughout the year, but also their chemistry as a cohesive unit on the court. Junior setter Hayley Crone said the team has taken a giant leap forward from where it stood at the beginning of the year to its recent play in conference matches.

“At the beginning of the season, we were just getting to know each other,” Crone said. “We’re kind of past that stage. Now we’re all focusing on the same goal.”

Crone also appreciates the team’s ability to stay focused late in games when the pressure turns up. Sunday’s match against Cal was the first time the Women of Troy had been forced into a fifth and deciding set this season.

“I think [being in a five set match] was really good for us,” Crone said. “It is important to know what it feels like to be in the fifth set with this team, and you never know what can happen. It prepares us for later in the season.”

For the Women of Troy to prove their worth on the road, they will look to their top offensive performers to continue playing at a high level.

Against Cal, freshman outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu had a career-high 21 kills, sophomore outside hitter Samantha Bricio tallied 16 kills and senior middle blocker Alexis Olgard also reached a career-high in kills with 15. Olgard also led the Women of Troy with eight blocks.

Both games this weekend will be televised on the Pac-12 Network, with Friday’s game beginning at 6 p.m. in Corvallis and Sunday’s game starting at 3 p.m. in Eugene.

 

Follow Kurt on Twitter