The USC women’s volleyball team closed out back-to-back nights against the University of Hawai’i as part of the Outrigger Volleyball Series with a 1-1 record.
Before Friday, the Trojans trailed 18-22 in their series record against the Rainbow Wahine, whom they last met in 2016, losing 3-2.
In the first set Friday, Hawai’i controlled the net and was efficient with 14 kills and a .306 hitting rate to win 25-17.
USC took advantage of the Wahine’s nine errors to even the match with a big 25-11 win in the second set. The Trojans hit .476 with 11 kills, three from graduate outside hitter Brooke Botkin, and produced two service aces.
The Trojans hung on in the third set with assistance from junior outside hitter Kalen Owes, who had five kills, but Hawai’i gained a two-point lead at 20-18 after breaking the 10th tie of the set, going on to win 25-21 and taking a 2-1 lead in the match.
The teams went back and forth in the fourth set, with Hawai’i taking an early lead. USC tied it at eight and then built a 12-9 lead. A deep shot was ruled long, but after a challenge reversed it, Hawai’i led 19-17. The Wahine put together a 7-0 run to take the set and the match.
Botkin had six kills, and graduate outside hitter Paige Hammons added three with six digs in the final set.
A shift occurred between Friday and Saturday, as a more aggressive Trojan team took the court against the Wahine in a 3-1 win.
“There’s two changes that we made. One was a physical, and one was a mental and team culture thing,” USC head coach Brad Keller said after Saturday’s game. “We’re working a lot on team culture right now, obviously seven new players, most of them are older players. But people still have to learn how to play with each other, communicate with each other. We’re going through that process. We did a lot of work on communication patterns and small things like that.
“The physical component in night one, we were not prepped on defense early enough. We did not dig very well. We did not get swings and transitions in our passing. We had too many passing breakdowns. So, those were the three areas we worked on physically.”
The Trojans lost the first set despite a late push. Botkin and junior opposite hitter Emilia Weske scored four kills apiece, while graduate middle blocker Candice Denny served up two aces. USC had nine unforced errors, and Hawai’i won 25-21.
Between the first and second sets, “it was about settling down and finding a groove,” Keller said. “It set the tone.”
The Trojans won 25-16 in the second set. USC had 18 kills, five each from Denny and Botkin, and four more from Weske. They out-dug the Wahine in the second set, 21-13, with graduate outside hitter Shannon Scully having nine alone.
USC struggled early in the third set, falling into a nine-point hole as Hawai’i led 20-11. Botkin and Weske sprung into action for five and six kills, respectively, and Scully racked up another eight digs to give USC a come-from-behind 25-22 win.
In the fourth set, the score was tied eight times, and the lead changed three times before the Trojans seized control with an 18-16 lead. Senior outside hitter Brooklyn Schirmer had six kills without an error on 10 swings (.600), and Botkin collected six digs to help complete a 25-23 win and end the match.
A key component in the win on Saturday was the return of Weske, who sat out four matches due to an injury. She tied Botkin with 16 kills on a career-high 45 attacks with four blocks (one solo) and four digs.
“[Weske] is a shutdown blocker on the right side,” Keller said. “She’s physical. She can hit a high point. She gets a load of sets for [the team]. She’s a terminator. When you don’t have that for the weekend, you’re really struggling for that production. Having her back not only gives us that production, but it balances it out.”
USC returns to Galen Center and will face No. 25 San Diego Friday night.