WOW. That was the most thrilling match all season. The regional semifinal between USC and Hawaii lived up to all the hype surrounding it. The sold-out Hawaii crowd was loud from beginning to end, and the momentum constantly shifted back and forth. But in the fifth set, the Women of Troy came through in the clutch and never lost the lead in the set, earning them a date tomorrow against the Pepperdine Waves in the Regional Finals.
More after the jump.In the first set, Hawaii had full control of the match. When USC tried to get the ball to Alex Jupiter for an outside spike, the blocking duo of Chanteal Satele and Brittany Hewitt denied her every time, and half of USC's points came from out of bounds spikes and service errors from the Rainbow Wahine. But in the second set, USC found their form. The Women of Troy began shaking up their offense, using Katie Fuller to make outside spikes away from Satele and making quick spikes in the middle with Sara Shaw. Hawaii kept it level throughout the set, with 15 ties occurring in the second round, but USC pulled through after five set point attempts.
After the break, Hawaii came out hot, with WAC player of the year Kanani Danielson making hot spikes that USC libero Natalie Hagglund couldn't handle. USC came back midway through the set, but then Jane Croson made a key kill that gave Hawaii the momentum to finish the set.
In set four, it was make-or-break time for USC, and Lauren Williams came through in a big way. She, along with Sara Shaw, became a formidable blocking duo and gave Danielson a taste of what Jupiter had experienced earlier in the game. On the offensive side, Jupiter found a rhythm and ran with it, earning six kills and an ace in the fourth set. Senior setter Kendall Bateman worked in tandem with Jupiter to open up many scoring opportunities for USC, and she notched 12 assists in the set.
So it came down to the final set, and USC finally figured out Hawaii's playing style. Jupiter altered her spike and got in shots over Hewitt, and she earned eight kills and finished the game with 33 total kills, easily passing her single game best. USC pulled ahead to a four point lead off of Jupiter's hot streak, and the Women of Troy never looked back. Sara Shaw earned the game-winning kill, and USC pulled off an incredible road victory in the most intense arena in all of college volleyball.
FINAL SCORE: USC wins 19-25, 29-27, 19-25, 25-23, 15-12.
It was an incredible victory that I'm sure these women will never forget, but now USC has to settle down, regain their focus, and prepare for tomorrow's game against Pepperdine. The Waves are a top-25 team with a formidable middle blocker named Kim Hill, who has 436 kills and 91 blocks. The key to the victory will be USC's focus. They do have the skills to beat Pepperdine, but the Waves will have come off an easy sweep over Kansas State, while SC will be less than 24 hours removed from a physically and emotionally taxing five-set nail biter. This will be a true test of Mick Haley's coaching ability and the players' physical and mental endurance.
The game will be televised on Saturday night at 9 PM PT on ESPNU and streamed online on ESPN3. The winner will advance to the National Championship semifinals at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. Oh, and they will get to celebrate their Final Four berth with a party on Waikiki Beach.
-- Jeremy Fuster