No. 4 USC Readies For Northwest Husky Showdown
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Nov. 12, 2013
LOS ANGELES - This could very well be for all the marbles. The race for the Pac-12 crown tightens up, this week, when the fourth-ranked USC women's volleyball team (22-3, 12-2 Pac-12) visits the Pacific Northwest for a pivotal bout with No. 3 Washington (21-1, 13-1) on Friday, Nov. 15, at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle, Wash.
The Huskies hold first place in the conference standings by a slim one-match margin over the Women of Troy and handed USC its only home loss, this season. Washington remains undefeated in its own arena, but must contend with an angry revenge-seeking Trojan squad.
Revenge alone won't be enough for USC to knock off the league's top dogs however. Though the Trojans own a 15-12 record against the Huskies in Seattle, UW has claimed victories in seven of the last eight times it has hosted USC. The lone USC victory came in 2011 when the Women of Troy managed to earn a 3-0 sweep en route to the Pac-12 title. Nonetheless, the Trojans have won four of the last six overall meetings and are battle-tested on the road having recently earned victories at No. 6 Stanford and at then No. 22-ranked California.
USC's trip to Seattle could be foretelling as the Trojans hope to return to the Emerald City in five weeks for the NCAA championships hosted by the University of Washington and the Seattle Sports Commission at Key Arena (Dec. 19-21).
During Mick Haley's 12 completed seasons at USC, his team has improved to post better second-half records in league matches five of the last six seasons. Six other times, the Trojans have finished with at least the same record in both halves. Only once has one of his squads fared worse in the second half. That, however, was in 2002 when USC went on to win the first of back-to-back NCAA titles.
The Trojans lean on senior libero Natalie Hagglund who leads the Pac-12 with 5.28 dps (19th in the NCAA). She became USC's career leader (now 2,165 digs) last weekend and moved into fourth place in Pac-12 history. Hagglund's accomplishments have made her one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award.
Offensively, USC's weaponry is spread evenly across its six hitters. Sophomore OH Samantha Bricio carries part of the load with 3.28 kps and leads the country in service aces (63) at 0.73 saps. Clocked at over 50 miles per hour, Bricio has had 10 matches, this season, in which she has posted three service aces, or more, and ranks eighth in the Pac-12 at 4.35 points per set. Her five-ace performance at Cal made her the single-season record holder at USC with 63 and counting.
Freshman OH Ebony Nwanebu is second on the team with 3.22 kps (.331) and also ranks third with 0.86 blocks per set. Nwanebu has been nothing short of impressive and has caught the eye of the conference with a record-tying five Pac-12 Freshman of the Week awards. At the other outside position, senior OH Sara Shaw is recording 2.06 kps and is second on the team with 2.77 dps. Junior OH Emily Young has become a steady force for the Trojans with 1.48 kps and is a threat on second contact as a former setter. Freshman OH Elise Ruddins has also proven to be a viable offensive option for the Trojans (2.47 kps) and had a match with 24 kills earlier this season.
Defensively, senior MB Alexis Olgard leads the team with 1.25 bps and cannot be overlooked on the offensive side of the net as she logs 2.32 kps with a league-leading .466 hitting percentage (fourth in the country). Junior MB Hannah Schraer is just a shade behind with 1.06 bps and puts up 1.44 kps. At the heart of the USC offense, setters Hayley Crone (6.40 aps) and Alice Pizzasegola (5.67 aps) run the show and have the Trojans hitting .283 (2nd in the Pac-12) this season.
SCOUTING WASHINGTON: The Huskies (21-1, 13-1 Pac-12) have won 11 matches in a row since their only loss of the year to Colorado on Oct. 4. In its 20 victories, Washington has only been pushed to five sets twice: once by Gonzaga (Aug. 31) and another by Stanford (Oct. 20). While not a surprise, the Huskies have maintained an unblemished home record at 9-0 and are 6-0 in conference matches at Alaska Airlines Arena. Much like USC, Washington employs a 6-2 system and is led by junior OH Krista Vansant who ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in kills (4.07 kps) and is fifth in points (4.72 pps). Vansant is also one of four Husky players to have logged at least 20 service aces, this season. Washington is the league's leader in service aces and gets 0.41 out of sophomore OH Cassie Strickland who ranks second in the Pac-12. Strickland also adds 1.21 kps and is second on the team with 2.67 digs per set. Senior libero Jenna Orlandini is the conference's seventh-leading defender at 4.16 dps and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, this week. Junior OH Kayleigh Nelson puts up 3.09 kps while senior OH Kylin Munoz is worth 1.89 kps for the Huskies. Sophomore MB Lianna Sybeldon is seventh in the Pac-12 for hitting percenrage (.359) and ranks fourth in blocks (1.27 bps). Setters Katy Beals (5.23 aps) and Jenni Nogueras (6.47 aps) run the UW offense.
THE MATCHUP: The Trojans and the Huskies will meet for the 59th time. USC holds a 38-20 edge in the all-time series and has won four of the last six meetings including a hard-fought 3-2 win at Galen Center, last season (Oct. 26, 2012). Five of the last 10 Trojan-Husky matchups have gone five sets. The Women of Troy are 15-12 when they face Washington in Seattle, but have won there just once in the last five tries; a 3-0 victory in 2011.
WASHINGTON HEAD COACH JIM McLAUGHLIN: Washington head coach Jim McLaughlin is in his 13th season and has compiled a 315-85 record with the Huskies. He is 539-203 in his 24-year career. McLaughlin has guided UW to 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances and helped the Huskies capture the 2005 national crown. He was once the head coach of the USC men's volleyball team (1990-96) where he compiled a 142-75 record and won the 1990 NCAA championship.
LAST TIME OUT: The Trojans claimed their fourth straight victory and ran their winning streak against Oregon State to 10 matches with a 3-0 sweep of the Beavers. It was the first time since 2004 that USC won all 12 sets against both Oregon and Oregon State in the regular season for four 3-0 sweeps. OH Ebony Nwanebu led the way with 13 kills and hit .522 on the night. It was her fourth straight match in double digit kills and gave her 15 on the season to match Samantha Bricio. Bricio had eight kills to go with 11 digs and a pair of service aces. In a word, MB Alexis Olgard was efficient as she logged eight kills on 14 swings with no errors for a .571 hitting percentage. She also added four digs and four blocks (two solo). Libero Natalie Hagglund led all players with 18 digs and moved into sole possession of fourth place in Pac-12 history for career digs (2,165). It was Oregon State's season-long 14th consecutive loss and kept the Beavers winless in league matches. It also equaled the second-longest losing streak in program history. Only the 2006 Beavers lost more matches in a row (18).
GALEN CENTER HOSTS NCAA REGIONAL: The University of Southern California and Galen Center will play host to the 2013 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Tournament's Los Angeles Regional Championship on Dec. 13-14 (Friday-Saturday). One team out of the region will secure one of four highly coveted spots in the national semifinals, which will be held at Key Arena (Dec. 19-21) in Seattle, Wash., hosted by the University of Washington and the Seattle Sports Commission. Since it opened in 2006, the Galen Center has hosted many high-profile sporting events including the 2012 NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship and the 2007 NCAA Women's Basketball First and Second Rounds. The 10,258-seat arena has also hosted the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament, the MPSF Men's Volleyball Championship, and the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Volleyball Championships; the latter in each of the last seven years. Outside of sports, the venue is also the site of entertainment events such as the Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards, Microsoft's E3, the League of Legends Championships, and popular reality talent show The X-Factor.