Austin - UT: Gregory Gymnasium (via Creative Commons/wallyg)
Yesterday, the #6 ranked Women of Troy (30-5) performed another sweep in the NCAA Tournament, defeating the Wichita State Shockers to advance to the Elite Eight for the eighth time in the last 10 seasons. Now, standing between them and a third consecutive appearance in the national semifinals are the Big 12 champion Texas Longhorns (26-4), and what's more, they will face Texas on their home court in Gregory Gym.
USC got off to a slow start in the first set, and the Shockers, who were making their first appearance in the regional semifinals, did their best to capitalize. Natalie Hagglund made some rare passing errors that led to easy points being lost. But at the end of the set, SC found their form at just the right time, getting six of the last seven points to win the set. They then went on rallies in the subsequent sets to build an insurmountable lead and cruised to victory. USC earned a .291 hitting percentage in the match while holding the Shockers to .117. Samantha Bricio made 13 kills and two aces while Katie Fuller scored 11 kills. Hagglund made 15 digs in the match to bring her season total to 599. Today, she will become the second player in program history to break the 600-dig mark on the season.
Today's match between the Longhorns and Women of Troy calls forth a lot of history between the two schools (besides, you know, Vince Young and all that). On this day five years ago, USC swept Texas in the regional finals in Gainesville to reach the national semis. What's more, USC coach Mick Haley was the head coach at Texas for sixteen years and led the school to two national championships in 1981 and 1988. Texas coach Jerritt Elliott was USC's coach from 1999-2000, and the last time these two schools faced each other in Gregory Gym, Elliott coached SC to a sweep victory.
Fuller, Bricio, and Hagglund will be required to face one of the toughest challenges they have faced all season. Texas' front line of Haley Eckerman, Bailey Webster, and Khat Bell has conquered the Big 12 on both offense and defense. Webster and Eckerman have combined for 81 kills in the postseason and are a major reason why Texas has the highest season hitting percentage this season at .320. Hagglund will need to show why she is considered the top libero in the nation if USC is to stand tall against Texas' potent offense. Texas is also ranked ninth in the nation in blocking, with 2.99 blocks per set. Khat Bell has made 127 blocks this season, so expect the announcers to talk about her matchup with Bricio many times in this match.
Of course, there is also the fact that Texas will be trying to sell out this game and present USC with a loud, road-game environment; however, this isn't the first time USC has faced such a situation. Last year, the Women of Troy competed in the Honolulu Regional against the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine, and 16,000 loud and proud Hawaii fans came to sell out the arena. USC managed to hold on in a five-set barnburner en route to a national semifinal appearance.
The game will air on ESPNU at 6 PM PT. Leave your thoughts here if you want. This is the game thread.