Volleyball

USC women’s volleyball takes down No. 13 UCLA in five sets

In the final game of the season and on senior night, USC knocks off No. 13 UCLA for a potential bid into the NCAA Tournament.

A photo of the USC women's volleyball team celebrating its upset over No. 13 UCLA Friday.

This season, the USC women’s volleyball team has struggled and lost matches it should not. On Friday, USC did the opposite, defeating UCLA, the No. 13 team in the nation.

“Tonight, you saw a team that was struggling at times and then put on a masterful performance,” head coach Brad Keller said. “You saw the potential of what this team is and they got to do it in front of a big crowd.”

The Trojans have gone through their high and lows throughout the season and needed their shot to prove themselves as a team. After falling behind two sets to one, USC never gave up and fought until the absolute end.

“We believed we could do it and I feel the emotions of this being our last shot,” senior setter Raquel Lázaro said. “Our last game here in Galen really motivated us to just perform and go for every single shot.”

The thunderous crowd was supporting the Trojans throughout the entire match. Knowing the crowd was in it with them helped motivate the team to continue fighting.

“I actually was not expecting so many people to be there because it was after Thanksgiving,” Lázaro said. “It was a plus for this win. Just listening to the entire crowd say ‘U-S-C.’ It was crazy.”

The Bruins started off strong in the first set, leading by as many as seven points, but the Trojans were able to close the gap to 23-21 before UCLA sealed the win.

The second set was a completely different story. The Trojans garnered an eight-point lead at 20-12 and were able to close out the set with a 25-16 victory.

The third set was even in the beginning. The Bruins and the Trojans were tied four times throughout the set, but the Bruins made a push and a 7-3 run helped them take control of the set.

The Bruins led by six, but the Trojans made another push to try and keep up with UCLA. However, the Bruins were able to keep the momentum going and closed out the third set, 25-21, and led the match 2-1.

With the Bruins leading the match, the senior leaders tried to stay level-headed and come out stronger than the other three sets.

“I tried to stay calm and tried to stay in the moment,” graduate outside hitter Brooke Botkin said.

It was a tough battle in the fourth set. The two teams went back and forth and were tied eight times. At 18-all, graduate senior libero Shannon Scully served three aces to give the Trojans a 22-19 lead.

Finally with back-to-back kills from graduate middle blocker Candice Denny, the Trojans were able to get to set point, ultimately capturing the fourth set with a 25-20 win.

Entering the fifth set, the Trojans knew that this was a must win for them in order to have a chance at the tournament.

“There’s a lot of emotion behind senior night playing your rival and it was a must win,” Scully said. “I think you are just battling the entire time, going back to the scouting report and talking about rotations.”

The Trojans came together as a team and leaned on each other to try and take the fifth set.

“Before it all started, we huddled and we were like ‘Let’s have the time of our lives out here and celebrate each other’s victories,’” Botkin said.

The Bruins started off the fifth set with a 3-0 start. The Trojans responded and took the lead 8-7. Botkin had five kills and a service ace to lead USC to capture the fifth set 15-10.

By winning this set and the match, the Trojans enter the conversation to make the NCAA Tournament in December. Keller spoke on the significance of the upset win for USC’s players, coaches and fans.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this group,” Keller said. “I am going to cry when I get home. I am not going to cry in front of them. That’s the biggest thing about people that in the past that have come to school here, is that you never say die.”