USC women’s volleyball impressed in the Boilermaker Challenge this week, notching two wins against Illinois and host Purdue. With USC set to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten next season, the Challenge represented an opportunity to preview future conference matchups and rivalries.
USC came out hot in the first set against Illinois on Thursday, but struggled to generate offense towards the middle of the match. Led by senior outside hitter Skylar Fields, who racked up 25 kills in the match, the Trojans stormed back to win the match 3-2 (25-16, 17-25, 21-25, 25-20, 15-13). Junior setter Mia Tuaniga had a double-double with 46 assists and 11 digs; sophomore middle blocker Tyrah Ariail led the team with 6 blocks, and sophomore libero Gala Trubint recorded 21 digs.
No. 7 Purdue was USC’s second matchup of the Boilermaker Challenge. Freshman outside hitter London Wijay started the match against Purdue and finished with 18 kills. Ariail made USC volleyball history with a spectacular .778 hitting percentage; she now ties former middle blocker Katie Olsovsky (2001) for second-highest in-game hitting percentage in USC’s history. Ariail also amassed 15 kills, a career high.
Officiating nearly became an issue for the Trojans in this match, as several crucial calls that went in Purdue’s favor were later overturned by challenge. Despite a fighting effort from the Boilermakers, the Trojans pulled together and sealed the 3-1 win in four sets (30-28, 15-25, 25-23, 25-23). Fields hammered down 27 kills and gained her second double-double of the season so far; she was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
The victories mark the fourth and fifth wins in a row for the USC squad, who started the season 1-4. Behind the leadership of Fields and the support of a strong young core, the team is gaining momentum.
“We realized that we were getting exploited, we weren’t super clean,” USC head coach Brad Keller commented about the beginning of the season, when the team struggled against Houston, Rice and Hawai’i. However, they turned things around during the Trojan Invitational, winning against UC Davis, Marist and San Diego.
“We’re seeing a lot of these players kinda step into their own a little bit more and gain confidence, and that’s gonna help Skylar out,” Keller said.
The tournament also marks the end of USC’s non-conference play, with plenty of Pac-12 games on the horizon (including UCLA on Wednesday). This tournament proved that USC can hold their own against Big Ten teams, who they will surely see more of in the near future.
“It’s great because the level of volleyball in the Big 10 is just so good, so physical, so fast,” Keller remarked. “And to see that and to play at that level and match it was really fun.”
USC improves to 6-4 on the season. The Trojans will play at UCLA on Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.