Stakes were high on Sunday in Oregon as the Trojans needed a victory to keep their hopes of going dancing at the 2021 NCAA tournament alive. They delivered with a dominant win over the Oregon State Beavers, collecting their fourth 3-0 sweep of the 2021 season.
USC played from out front for nearly the entire match, only trailing the Beavers briefly at the beginning of the second set before igniting a seven-point run to regain the lead.
While it is easy to look ahead to the playoffs and think about the upcoming end to the season, head coach Brad Keller stated how critical it was today, and for the rest of the year, for the team to stay in the moment.
“We played it point-by-point, and we were in the moment,” Keller said. “We were where our feet were supposed to be instead of looking ahead or anticipating or getting too hot wrapped up in the highs and lows and emotion.”
The Trojans definitely did not get ahead of themselves, coming to play from the jump and taking a convincing 10-3 lead in the first set, causing the Beavers to call their first timeout. Graduate middle bocker Candice Denny got a kill and immediately followed it up with a service ace to extend the USC lead to 22-10. The Trojans took the set, almost doubling Oregon State’s points at 25-13.
The commanding first victory was fueled by a full team effort from USC with four different players recording a hitting percentage of .500 or greater. As per usual, Denny and graduate outside hitter Brooke Botkin were stellar in the opening set, accumulating five and six kills respectively as well as a service ace each.
Oregon State showed their fight in the following set, taking their first lead of the day early on at 4-3. However, the Trojans kicked it into another gear, winning both of the next two sets by a score of 25-17 with junior outside hitter Kalen Owes finishing the game off with the kill to seal the deal.
Botkin made some history in today’s match: her kill to give the Trojans an 8-3 lead in the first set also gave her sole possession of the 13th spot on the all-time kills list in USC history. Undoubtedly Botkin will be looking to climb even further up the list before the season’s end.
It was an especially impressive day for freshman setter Mia Tuaniga, who continued her ascendant first-year campaign. The transfer from Long Beach State was a true team player, leading the team with a whopping 36 assists. She also had the second most digs on the day with 14, just behind graduate outside hitter Shannon Scully’s 16. Tuaniga tacked on 2 kills, an ace and sported a perfect 1.000 hitting percentage in the match.
Another key performer for the Trojans was Denny: she netted 10 kills to go along with a .625 hitting percentage.
USC played a much cleaner game than the Beavers, finishing with a strong .371 hitting percentage compared to OSU’s .078.
The Trojans’ record on the season currently sits at 11-14 following their six-game skid prior to Sunday’s victory. A team that finishes the season under .500 cannot qualify for the NCAA tournament, so in order to have a chance at continuing their 29-year tourney streak, USC must win out to finish the year.
USC Volleyball will be at home for their final four games. They will look to keep their tournament hopes alive when they host Arizona on Friday at the Galen Center.