USC starts conference play against crosstown rival UCLA

In the preseason coaches poll, USC women’s volleyball is projected to finish fourth in the Pac-12 conference, while UCLA is projected for fifth.

Women's volleyball gather on the court for Trojan Invitational.

USC women’s volleyball team (6-4) kicks off its final season of Pac-12 play Wednesday night against UCLA for the first of two Crosstown Showdowns this season. For head coach Brad Keller, who worked at UCLA prior to taking over the Trojans’ program, it certainly brings up a lot of emotion.

“[I]t’s loaded for me because I have so many friends and people that I love at UCLA, so it’s not something for me, but I do want to win,” Keller said. “You want to win the game.”

Despite the emotion, Keller is excited to take on several of his former UCLA players in what is expected to be a very competitive and physical match on both sides of the net. When he served as the Bruins’ associate head coach, he played a big role in bringing these athletes to Westwood.

“There are still players on that [UCLA] team that I recruited,” Keller said. “So seeing them be successful and seeing them be happy, and seeing my kids [at USC] be happy, and seeing a healthy rivalry where the local community can come and watch high level volleyball and good role models is probably my favorite part of this.”

For freshman outside hitter London Wijay, who is playing in her first Bruin matchup, the excitement of getting to take part in such a storied rivalry is a big motivation in wanting to do well on Wednesday.

“I’m super excited to see what it’s going to be like,” Wijay said. “I’ve never experienced anything like it, so I can’t wait to play them. And they’re a great team. So it’s gonna be really fun.”

UCLA recently hired Alred “Alfee” Reft as its new head coach last December. Keller knows that USC will have its hands full against its crosstown rival as the Bruins are off to an impressive 8-2 start. Reft has an impressive coaching resume, which includes leading San Diego to the Final Four last season as the Toreros’ associate head coach while also working as an assistant coach for the USA Women’s National team.

“Very impressed with Alfee, he’s one of the coaches of the National Team, so he comes from good systems and good training,” Keller said of his UCLA counterpart. “That clearly shows from watching video of them. They’re very good at what they do, so it’s not about changing, it’s about just prepping for what they do and what we need to do.”

Despite the hot start from the Bruins, Keller says that the Trojans prioritize daily improvement, consistent work ethic and accountability amongst teammates.

Wijay just won her first Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors. She contributed 22 kills and 18 digs at the Boilermaker Challenge to help USC defeat both Illinois and Purdue. She knows that the positive mindset and strong bond amongst the team will help it as the Trojans trek their way into enemy territory as they enter Wednesday’s match on a five match win streak.

“I think we all are just having such good attitudes on the court and our practices are getting better and better, so I think that the intensity at practice is carrying onto the game, and honestly, our team is like a family,” Wijay said. “We hang out with each other outside of volleyball, and I think that’s what makes us continue to be great together.”

The rivalry between the two schools will continue to bring excitement and feature talented athletes on both sides of the net in the years to come. For Keller, this season’s matchups against UCLA will be particularly important because it will be the last season that the Trojans and Bruins face each other as members of the Pac-12.

“It’s just two good teams that are doing well that represent the Pac one last year, it’s the last time we’re gonna represent the Pac,” Keller said. “I know we’re gonna play each other down the road in the Big Ten, but it’s the last time with the Pac-12, so I’m looking forward to these two matches.”

The first edition of the Crosstown Showdown this year is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion.