Student Tribute to Haden

| 1 Comment
Every USC student-athlete in attendance took the stage at the Galen Center to pay tribute to outgoing athletic director Pat Haden.

We will have more content from the Student-Athlete Graduation on Friday, but here is the emotional farewell video made by the student-athletes, in particular Caroline Cordrey of women's lacrosse and Robby Kolanz of football, for their beloved AD:

Celebration Day

| No Comments
USC celebrated the return of the SoCal BMW Crosstown Cup to Heritage Hall as well as beach volleyball's national championship in a joint ceremony this morning, which featured speeches by athletic director Pat Haden, football head coach Clay Helton, men's basketball head coach Andy Enfield, beach volleyball head coach Anna Collier, and All-Americans Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes.

Click here to watch the celebration!

Here are the John McGillen photos of the event:

#USCgrad: The Lucky One

| 1 Comment
Today, USC senior soccer defender Whitney Pitalo will walk across the stage at the Galen Center, receive her diploma for an undergraduate degree in NGOs and Social Change, and then search the crowd for her parents to take in the moment together. Surrounded by hundreds of fellow student-athletes and family members also celebrating the culmination of four years of hard work, the Pitalo's will look like any of the other proud parents in attendance. But their story, and their daughter's story, is quite different.

Pitalo's roots lie in a tough background shared by more than 400,000 other children in the United States. Born in Portland, her birth parents struggled with drug addiction while raising six children. At the age of two, Pitalo and her siblings were removed from their home and placed into the foster care system, almost certainly facing separation from their birth parents as well as each other. Surprisingly, the group was taken in by an older foster parent couple in Salem and six years later, the pair adopted Whitney and four of her siblings (her youngest sister was raised by an aunt), an astoundingly rare occurrence for large groups of children bouncing around the system (all six siblings pictured below).

"It's unheard of," she says. "My foster parents, who are now my real parents, are amazing people who sacrificed a lot."

The first in her family to graduate from a four-year university, Pitalo has exceeded expectations in more ways than one. Her childhood love of soccer led her to USC and helped her discover her life's passion, connecting the circle of her story back to where she started. As she reflects back on the last four, and 22 years, she feels more certain than ever where her road is taking her.

"I have more direction in my life in terms of where I want to go," says Pitalo. "I'm more confident in my values and my beliefs and know where I'm headed. My freshman year was all about soccer and just getting by, now it's much bigger than that."

When she moved to Los Angeles from Oregon four years ago, Pitalo slowly learned to balance soccer and school just like her fellow Trojan student-athletes, finding her way and herself on and off the pitch. She started as a psychology major but soon found a better match in a new program that examined the use of business for social change. Her junior year, she interned at a nonprofit for a class requirement and never stopped, another step closer to finding something outside of soccer that matched her love for her sport.

"It's been really busy," Pitalo acknowledges. "But you make time for things you want. When there is that passion inside of you it doesn't feel like too much. If you know your roots, what and where you come from, that's the most important thing. If you find something that's tied to your roots, to who you are, I'm pretty sure you'll have passion for it and something will come of that."

Before college, Pitalo's biggest passion was for soccer, and as she entered high school she watched as the beautiful game opened doors for her that are rarely open to foster kids. Four years after receiving a scholarship from USC, she is hoping to open those same doors for foster kids just like her.

"A lot of things aren't working [in the foster system]," Pitalo explains. "I got really lucky, and I know that and that's why I'm so passionate about changing it. I was lucky to stay with all of my siblings, but all of my older siblings had to deal with hard stuff. There is so much trauma sustained by kids in the process. I was so lucky not to experience that."

Pitalo was raised by foster parents (right) who loved and supported her, a simple yet often hard-to-find environment in today's foster care system. When she says she considers herself lucky, it's because her upbringing kept her from the unfortunate reality facing most foster kids. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, children emerging from the foster care system are five times more likely to develop PTSD and seven times more likely to develop drug dependence than a child not raised in foster care. Twenty-five percent of foster children experience homelessness within four years of leaving the system, and 48 percent will be unemployed for an extended period of time at some point in adulthood. Less than 10 percent of foster children will go on to graduate from college. 

In her current internship at The Right Way Foundation in Los Angeles, Pitalo and her coworkers help transitional-age foster youth learn life skills, find resources and apply for jobs. She is appreciative and proud of the work that they do but believes strongly that change needs to happen at a higher level in order to help foster youth in a tangible and large-scale fashion.

"There are things that need to change," Pitalo says with conviction. "There needs to be more consistency. Foster kids need real relationships, because that's what every person needs to grow and to thrive. To bounce around between pseudo-relationships is unhealthy. The trauma inside is what's hindering them from doing what they need to and want to do. That's the area I really want to work and help in."

Guided by a deeply personal and societally important mission, USC's 2016 female Pac-12 Post Graduate scholarship recipient is headed back home to attend Willamette University to get her master's. From there, she wants to work for benefit corporations, leveraging business to do good for society, and then one day in government, where she can help to fix the country's broken foster care system.

But before she sets off to change the world, Pitalo will celebrate on Thursday alongside family, teammates and coaches, and there's a lot for her to be both happy about and thankful for. For her scholarship to Willamette next year, for four amazing years at USC, for a love of soccer that carried her from Salem to Southern California and back again and most of all, for a foster family and story that's one-of-a-kind. At graduation, Pitalo will celebrate that story, with the hope and confidence that one day she can help other foster children have a chance at the same happy ending.  


Dancing on Home

| No Comments
USC beach volleyball not only won the sport's first-ever NCAA Championship, but the Women of Troy competed with the ultimate balance of ferocity and spirit. The Trojans danced and smiled their way through a perfect postseason led by Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes, who were named First Team All-Americans on Wednesday.

Here is a look back at a great season and an even better team:

Let's Go Dodgers

| No Comments
A Bruin and a Trojan found a reason to unite last night as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a UCLA alum, welcomed USC head coach Clay Helton to Chavez Ravine for a ballgame.

Bricio's Plan

| No Comments
USC women's volleyball will say a final farewell to one of its all-time greatest student-athletes this week as Samantha Bricio graduates. The 2015 National Player of the Year earned her degree in psychology and has immediate plans to play professionally, but ultimately wants to return to USC to get her master's in criminal psychology.

Click here for the full USC News graduation feature.

Her career goal is to become an FBI profiler. "For me and my family, it's school first, volleyball second," Bricio said. "Everybody says I'm crazy, but I just think it's really interesting. Have you ever watched Criminal Minds? That's what I want to do."

Written by Max Holm, USC blog contributor

College football is rooted in tradition, and no university holds deeper roots than USC. From our timeless uniforms to our historic stadium, the Trojan tradition is passed down from generation to generation.

The Spirit of Troy provides the soundtrack for that tradition. The Trojan Marching Band dates its origins back to shortly after the school was founded in 1880. However, the band did not start out in its current form. It was once merely just a band, which then transformed into a dynamic mix of band and spirit, and one that is recognized nationwide.

"When I walked onto campus for the first time, I saw the band and I couldn't turn back," said junior band member Chris Wodniak. "There's simply no other band that operates at the intensity of the Trojan Marching Band, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it."

"The Greatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe" owns two platinum records and has played with Fleetwood Mac, Jason Derulo, Neil Diamond, Slash, Beck, and so many others. Most importantly, the band plays on game days for the Trojans, with the biggest performances coming for the dozen or so football games.

Like any great group, and especially any great band, there's always a person who shoulders a little bit more responsibility, someone who symbolizes the group's dynamic and power. First and foremost, Dr. Arthur C. Bartner, the director of the Spirit of Troy, is "the man on the ladder." But at the ground level, the USC Drum Major leads the line. Enter Chris Wodniak, the recently appointed drum major for the 2016-17 school year.

The drum major is not what it sounds like, solely pertaining to a percussion or drum player. Wodniak is a trombone player.

"The drum major position goes out to the best candidate regardless of what section they come from. I believe the last trombone drum major was five years ago. After that, there were three trumpet players and a mellophone/alto sax player," says Wodniak.

The drum major appears, to the untrained eye, as a member of the band dressed up on game days as a mascot, but it is so much more.

"The drum major is the figurehead, the pinnacle of student leadership in the Spirit of Troy. It is, in fact, an elected position within the ensemble, someone who has marched with the band for three or four years," says assistant band director Jacob Vogel.

Just from hearing Vogel and Wodniak talk about the position, you get a real appreciation for its significance.

"The Drum Major is the face of the Trojan Marching Band and the embodiment of Trojan Nation: the students, our athletes, the USC staff, our alumni, and fans all over the world," explains Wodniak. "It personifies our endless pride, unwavering spirit and resilience no matter what happens."

Terrific Tennis Trio

| No Comments
Spanning the gauntlet from promising rookie to accomplished veteran, a trio of Trojan tennis players received well-earned ITA Southwest Regional Awards this week. Senior Max de Vroome received Senior Player of the Year honors after achieving his highest career singles ranking this year (#18) and leading the Trojans to their 10th consecutive NCAA Team Championship appearance. Freshman Jake DeVine received Rookie of the Year honors after helping his team to the Tournament with a 25-12 overall singles record. On the women's side, senior Giuliana Olmos earned the program's first ITA/Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Award since 2007. 

First-round competition in the NCAA Tournament begins for the Women of Troy this Friday vs UNLV in Malibu at 10 a.m. PT. The USC men's team also open tournament play on Friday at 1 p.m. vs UNLV at Marks Stadium. Be sure to follow @USCMensTennis and @USCWomensTennis for in-match updates and more this postseason!


Historic Hosts

| No Comments
The USC women's lacrosse team made a lot more than just program history when it won the MPSF Championship last week with a perfect 19-0 record. As the five seed in the upcoming 2016 NCAA Tournament, the Women of Troy will host the first-ever NCAA tournament games on the West Coast this Friday and Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Trojans' seed includes a first round bye, so USC will face the winner of Stanford (14-4) and James Madison (10-9), which play Friday at 3 p.m. PT, on Sunday at 12 p.m. PT. Seeded above the Women of Troy is defending national champion and No. 1 ranked Maryland (the only other undefeated team in the nation), along with No. 2 seed Florida, No. 3 seed North Carolina and No. 4 seed Syracuse. 

Each of this weekend's first and second round games will be streamed live on USC's Pac-12 portal which can be found here. Be sure to follow @USCTrojansLAX for in-game updates, photos and more. 

Trojan Huddle on Tour

| 1 Comment
The 2016 Trojan Huddle Tour, featuring USC head football coach Clay Helton and men's basketball coach Andy Enfield, is hitting the road in May and June to give fans a preview of the upcoming football and basketball seasons. Alongside several student-athletes, former head football coach John Robinson and the Trojan Marching Band, the head coaches will provide an insider's chalk talk at each tour stop. 

The four stops are: May 25 (La Jolla Country Club), May 26 (Balboa Bay Resort), June 1 (Brian Kennedy Founders' Room, USC Galen Center) and June 3 (Indian Wells Country Club). Trojan fans can enjoy a meal and silent auction along with the talk and Q&A session. 

A cocktail reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. at each venue. Dinner will be served at the USC Galen Center and Indian Wells stops while hors d'oeuvres will be served in La Jolla and Newport Beach. 

For more information, click here (use "Guest" for online ID), call USC Athletics at (213) 740-4155 or email