For the fourth consecutive year, USC women's volleyball has reached the regional finals of the NCAA tournament. After sweeping its first two opponents, USC defeated Brigham Young in four sets on Friday night to set up tonight's match against the Washington Huskies at the Galen Center.
USC swept New Hampshire and Cal State Northridge on its home court last week, with Samantha Bricio continuing to lead the charge on offense. The sophomore made 18 kills and five aces in the opening weekend. Against BYU, USC found themselves in an opening set that may have been the toughest single set it has faced all season.
The set went into extra points and featured 19 game-tying points and seven set-point opportunities, until USC finally prevailed by a score of 32-30 when Bricio tipped in a kill and Sara Shaw tooled off the Cougar block for the set point. In the second set, USC took the momentum from the extra-point victory and ran with it, going on a 12-3 run and outblocking the Cougars 6-0 to win 25-13.
The intermission gave BYU some time to regroup, as it got its offense clicking with a .444 hitting rate. The Cougars matched every scoring run USC made, keeping a comfortable three-point lead throughout the set and winning 25-21. Sophomore Alexa Gray, who scored 27 kills in BYU's five-set win over Arizona State last week, had 11 kills in the third set and 23 in the entire match, finishing the season with 477 kills. USC secured the victory in the fourth set by holding BYU to a .096 hitting rate and winning 25-16.
With starting middle blocker Alexis Olgard sitting out this game, freshman Elise Ruddins picked up the slack, scoring 13 kills and five blocks. Bricio was as strong as ever, scoring five aces to bring her season total to 85 as Latino SC fans waved Mexican flags to cheer on the Guadalajara native.
Ebony Nwanebu, who had her weakest performance in months last week when she only posted four kills against CSUN, was back in top form with 18 kills. Finally, Academic All-American and Pac-12 Libero and Offensive Scholar Athlete of the Year Natalie Hagglund posted 22 digs, the 11th time this season she has posted 20+ digs in a game.
Now USC turns to the Washington Huskies (29-2), who defeated them twice this season en route to a Pac-12 title. The Huskies' four-set road victory against SC was only the 11th time the Women of Troy have lost in Galen Center, and now they are looking to hand them a 12th defeat. L
eading the way is Krista Vansant, who was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Vansant leads the team with 456 kills, 43 of them against USC. The Huskies also have a strong defense, holding USC to a .197 team hitting average in their match in Seattle.
The winner of this matchup will face Penn State in the national semifinal at Key Arena, which is located just four miles away from the UW campus. Needless to say, that will give the Huskies extra motivation to win tonight, as they can expect a large hometown crowd to cheer them on to a national title.
For USC, a win tonight would give the Trojans their third appearance in the Final Four since 2010. USC has bought 250 tickets for students that show up with an ID. First serve is at 8:30 PM and the match will be broadcast on ESPNU.