USC clinches win over UCLA in five sets

In a back-and-forth game full of scrappy rallies, the Trojans defeated their crosstown rivals 3-2 at Pauley Pavilion.

After facing a loss against UCLA (12-6) on Friday and coming off a three-game losing streak, USC women’s volleyball (4-8) was hungry for victory.

The Trojans came out strong in the first set against its rivals, with senior outside hitter Brooke Botkin putting away three kills in the first four points. Botkin led the team throughout the match, finishing with 23 kills and 19 digs.

USC led for most of the first set. A decisive cross-court kill by junior outside hitter Brooklyn Schirmer set the Trojans up for an 11-6 lead. Schirmer added 16 kills and 11 digs, matching her career kill record. The Bruins fought their way back with a streak of kills and strategic plays to put them up 24-21. USC junior setter Raquel Lázaro came in with confidence and calmness to serve five times in a row and the first 27-25 victory was secured by a Schirmer game-winning tip.

“The team did not give up,” head coach Brad Keller said. “They fought. Usually 24-21 when you’re down, you’re not winning that set. The fact that we were just maintaining poise and we continued to push and just play next-point mentality was really impressive. I just like our resolve and our response and our ability to just keep working hard and grinding through some tough situations.”

The momentum carried through to the second set and the Trojans held a lead throughout the game. Botkin earned her 12th kill for the game point, finishing it up at 25-23.

UCLA returned to the court with a lust for revenge in the third set. The Bruins took advantage of every error the Trojans made and the third set ended with a 25-14 Bruin victory. In the fourth set,  UCLA capitalized on tipping hits into the unattended campfire area and they won the set 25-21.

“We’ve had a history of digging ourselves holes and we did that in the third and fourth sets,” Keller said. “When you dig yourself those types of holes, it can be very deflating. You have to do the next thing you can do that’s positive: the next touch, the next step, the next assignment.”

In the fifth set, kills from Schirmer and Denny along with blocks from sophomore middle blocker Aleksandra Gryka left the Bruins unable to bag the win against the strong offense. Botkin gained her 23rd kill to bring the team to 14-11, and she and Gryka made a match-winning block to end the fifth and final set with a score of 15-11.

“This is such a crazy year,” Keller said. “So, all this is an ability for us to learn the new culture, learn the new system, play high-level volleyball, compete and get ready for the fall. It’s always about trying to build because we’re just getting started as a program, my staff and everything. That’s what this [victory] does-- it gives you a little more juice to get into those final four matches we have.”

Keller looks to continue to build momentum in his first season as the USC head coach in the upcoming games. USC will face Arizona (9-9) on Friday in Tucson.