Fresh off a season filled with what ifs and what could've been, USC Women's Volleyball returns with an opportunity to take the next step into national champion.
Led by 14th-year head coach Mick Haley, the Trojans enter the season ranked second overall in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll. The Trojans are led by two star breakout players in AVCA Second-Team All-American outside hitter Samantha Bricio and breakout star Ebony Nwonebu, the 2013 AVCA Freshman of the Year.
As a sophomore, Bricio led the NCAA in service aces (85) and set a USC record in a single season. Bricio, who herself was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2012, represented the Trojans on the Pac-12 All-Star Team over the summer.
Nwonebu, who dominated in her final performance against Washington last season notching 30 kills, represented the U.S. Collegiate National Team over the summer.
USC kicks off the 2014 season August 29th against Rider in the two-day Community Bankers Volleyball Classic. The Women of Troy will face a non-conference schedule that requires them to face four teams ranked in AVCA preseason top 25, including No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Florida, No. 19 Kentucky, and No. 23 Creighton.
One of the biggest spots the Women of Troy must replace from last season is Academic All-American and four-year starter Natalie Hagglund. The honored Team USA libero was at the Galen Center earlier this month for an exhibition match, but her presence will certainly be hard to replace, but definitely possible with a balanced, well-coached roster.
"We had previously designed our defense to accent Natalie," Haley told usctrojans.com in the 2014 season preview. "We've since changed that in order to put less pressure on the position. We will replace Natalie by committee."
USC will rely on a committee of players, including captain Haley Crone and sophomore trio Ann Marie Schmidt, Kelly Wimmer and Taylor Wittingham to disperse the load at the all-important libero position this upcoming season.
"We'll change what we have the blockers do a little bit, and we'll cover the court starting at the net a little more. We'll have to wait to see who steps up so we can best construct our lineup," coach Haley said.
USC welcomes the second-best recruiting class in the nation with opposite Brittany Abercrombie, who led her club team to a Junior National Championship in July; outside hitter Lauryn Gillis, the 2012 Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year; outside hitter Taylor Wheatley (sister of USC baseball pitcher Brent); and middle blocker Jordan Dunn.
"We're a really tight team," said Haley. "Even though we have five newcomers, and 11 total freshmen and sophomores, everyone has been here for more than a month, and you can tell they all really like each other."