Volleyball Advances To NCAA Final Four; Looks To Defend Title

Dec. 15, 2003

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The Facts
The undefeated and top-ranked USC women's volleyball team (33-0, 18-0 Pac-10) - selected as the tournament's top seed overall - received its 13th consecutive bid to the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship, and is making its 21st overall appearance. For the third time in the last four years, USC -- the 2003 Pac-10 Champion -- advances to the NCAA Final Four and will face 14th-ranked Minnesota (26-10) on Thursday, Dec. 18, at 6:30 p.m. CST at Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas. A victory will give the Trojans an opportunity to defend their title in the NCAA Championship match on Saturday, Dec. 20, at 2:30 p.m. CST against either No. 2 Hawai'i or No. 3 Florida. All of USC's matches can be heard live on www.usctrojans.com. Thursday's semifinal matches will be tape delayed on ESPN2 and ESPN, while Saturday's final will be broadcast live by ESPN (see above for details).

NCAA Semifinals
Thursday, Dec. 18 - 6:30 p.m. CST
#14 Minnesota vs. #1 USC
Tape Delay - 12/18 at 11 p.m. EST on ESPN2

Thursday, Dec. 18 - 8:30 p.m. CST
#3 Florida vs. #2 Hawai'i
Tape Delay - 12/19 at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN

NCAA Final
Saturday, Dec. 20 - 2:30 p.m. CST
Minnesota/USC vs. Florida/Hawai'i

Led by third-year head coach Mick Haley, the Women of Troy are coming off a 3-0 victory over 17th-ranked Texas A&M and 3-1 victory over eighth-ranked UCLA last week at the NCAA Central Regional in Lincoln, Neb.

NCAA Regional Final Recap........ def. UCLA, 3-1
April Ross led with 19 kills as USC defeated crosstown rival UCLA, 3-1 (24-30, 30-26, 30-17, 30-17), on Dec. 13 to win the NCAA Central Regional. Ross was one of four Trojans to record 10 or more kills, as Emily Adams tallied 14 on a .357 hitting percentage, while Keao Burdine and Katie Olsovsky chipped in 13 and 11, respectively. Burdine was selected as the Regional's Most Outstanding Player and was one of four USC players named to the all-tournament team, which also included Ross, Adams and Bibiana Candelas. In game one, the score was tied at 15 before UCLA ripped off a 5-0 run. USC closed the gap to 20-17 with a kill by Burdine, but a service error gave the ball back to the Bruins. UCLA led by at least four the rest of the way for a 30-24 win. The Bruins hit .343 in game one and out-blocked the Women of Troy, 6-2. USC committed five service errors and hit just .167. The Trojans rebounded with a 30-26 win in game two. With the game tied at 25, the Women of Troy scored five of the last six points to wrap up the victory. A 4-1 rally to start game three put the Women of Troy back in the swing of things. USC stretched its lead to as much as 10 points, rolling to the final 13-point victory, 30-17. The Women of Troy raced to a 12-0 lead to start the final game. The scoring spree included five kills by Ross, who collected nine kills and hit .692 in the final set. USC completed the match on a kill by Olsovsky for the 30-17 win.

NCAA Regional Semifinal Recap........ def. Texas A&M, 3-0
USC defeated Texas A&M, 3-0 (30-26, 30-25, 30-27), in the NCAA Regional Semifinal on Dec. 12. Having already faced and fallen to the Trojans this season, the Aggies were energized for the match as a supportive Big 12 crowd stood behind them. The enthusiasm kept them in the match, never allowing USC to lead by more than seven points in the three games. But despite Texas A&M's efforts, the Women of Troy possessed too many weapons for the Aggies to combat. It was Bibiana Candelas' and Keao Burdine's night to shine as the two led the Trojans with 14 and 13 kills apiece. Candelas hit a team-best .393 in the effort (14-3-28), in addition to four blocks and two service aces. Burdine also posted a pair of aces in addition to two blocks and six digs.

NCAA Second Round Recap........ def. Loyola Marymount, 3-0
Four players contributed double digit scoring as USC defeated 15th-ranked Loyola Marymount, 3-0 (30-16, 30-22, 30-16), in the NCAA Second Round played at the Lyon Center on Dec. 6. Bibiana Candelas, April Ross, Katie Olsovsky and Emily Adams all posted doubles figures in the three-game match. Candelas led with 15.5 points thanks to five blocks and 13 kills, in addition to hitting at a .500 clip. Ross had 14.5 points, a match-best 14 kills, 13 digs and a .520 attack effort. Adams and Olsovsky each had an identical 12 points, nine kills and five blocks. USC's size and depth was just too much for Loyola Marymount. The Women of Troy out-hit (.431 to .126), out-blocked (12.5 to 5.5) and out-dug (54 to 35) the Lions.

NCAA First Round Recap........ def. New Hampshire, 3-0
USC opened the 2003 NCAA Tournament with a 3-0 sweep (30-17, 30-18, 30-17) of America East Conference champion New Hampshire on Dec. 5. Emily Adams led the Women of Troy with 12.5 points thanks to a match-high nine kills and five blocks. Bibiana Candelas also had an outstanding performance, hitting .538 thanks to seven kills off of 13 attacks and no errors. Libero Nicole Davis led with 13 digs. USC spread the offense, with all players seeing time on the court.

USC Sets NCAA Win Streak Record!
With a win over UCLA in the regional final on Dec. 13, USC notched its 45th consecutive victory, breaking the NCAA record. Penn State formerly held the mark with 44 straight wins collected from Aug. 31 through Dec. 7, 1990. UCLA was second on the list with 43 consecutive wins between 1991 and 1992. The Women of Troy have not lost a match since falling to Stanford 3-2 at home on Nov. 2, 2002.

**The Trojans overall program record is 56 straight wins set from 1976 to 1978, before volleyball was recognized as an NCAA sport.

Charting the Streaks
USC has won its last 45 consecutive matches (dating back to 11/2/02 when they lost 3-2 to Stanford at home), 20 consecutive home matches and 34 consecutive road matches. The Trojans have not dropped a road match since the 2001 season (a 3-1 loss at Stanford, 11/10/01).

The Rankings
After entering the season at No. 1, the Women of Troy have held on to the top spot every week. USC kept all 65 first-place votes to remain No. 1 on this week's USA Today/AVCA Coaches Top 25 poll and the top spot in the Volleyball magazine poll.

USC Wins 2003 Pac-10 Championship with Perfect Mark
USC captured the 2003 Pac-10 Championship with a perfect 18-0 record. This is the first time the Women of Troy have gone unbeaten in Pac-10 conference play and the eighth such record in Pac-10 history. The Women of Troy have now won the last three-of-four conference titles. USC has won six conference titles in its 27-year program history (1976, 1977 and 1980 WCAA champions, 2000 Pac-10 co-champions, 2002 and 2003 Pac-10 champions).

The Only Unbeaten Team
USC is the only Division I team to make it through the 2003 regular season undefeated. It is also only the second time in program history that the Women of Troy have accomplished the feat. The first was in 1977 when USC finished the regular season at 26-0 and went on to win the AIAW National Championship with a final 38-0 overall mark.

Only three teams in NCAA and AIAW women's volleyball history have managed to go undefeated en route to winning a national title. USC did so in 1977, followed by Long Beach State in 1998 and Nebraska in 2000.

Injury Update
* Junior Alicia Robinson suffered a sprained right foot (the same foot she had surgery on during the summer) during warmups on Dec. 13. She will not be available for this week's matches.
* Freshman Alex Dunphy has yet to play a match this season, but has been in uniform. Dunphy has been rehabilitating a lower back injury for much of the season.

USC History In The NCAAs
The Women of Troy are making their 13th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and their 21st overall since the tournament's inception in 1981. USC has only missed the tournament twice, in 1986 and 1990, after posting its only two losing seasons in program history. With a 43-18 (.705) all-time NCAA tournament record, USC has won two NCAA national championships (including last season) and advanced to the Final Four on five occasions, including in 2000 and 2002.

Led by All-Americans Dana Smith and Cathy Stukel, the Trojans claimed the first-ever NCAA women's volleyball title in 1981. Entering the tournament as underdogs on a four-match losing streak, USC won when it counted by beating UCLA in the championship match after being down 2-1. The team ended the 1981 season with a 27-10 overall record and the title in hand.

First team All-Americans April Ross and Emily Adams led the Women of Troy to the 2002 NCAA championship. With the talent of five-of-six returners, USC was more determined than ever to make it back to the NCAA semifinals (after advancing to the Final Four in 2000). The Trojans got past the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament with ease and took care of Florida in the NCAA Semifinal in four games. After splitting victories with Stanford during the regular season, USC captured a four-game victory over the Cardinal for its first national championship in more than 20 years.

USC also won AIAW national titles in 1976, 1977 and 1980.

Seniors To Leave As USC's Best
In four years, USC's five seniors -- setter Toni Anderson, libero Nicole Davis, middle blocker/outside hitter Kelli Lantz, middle blocker/opposite hitter Katie Olsovsky and outside hitter April Ross -- have revived the championship tradition of Women of Troy volleyball. These players have led the Women of Troy to the 2002 NCAA Championship, the 2000 NCAA Final Four, 2001 NCAA Regional Final and three Pac-10 Championships. They have posted a combined 117-8 overall record (.936), 66-5 (.930) Pac-10 record, won three-of-four conference titles and finished every season ranked in the top 5 nationally. The five arrived in 2000 as the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and are looking to leave the same way they came.

Record Six Players Earn All-Region Honors
A program record six players were named to the 2003 AVCA All-Pacific Region first team and honorable mention teams. April Ross, Emily Adams, Bibiana Candelas and Keao Burdine each earned first-team accolades, while Toni Anderson and Katie Olsovsky were named to the honorable mention team. This is the fourth consecutive honor for Ross and the second-consecutive for Adams. Both players went on to earn All-America first team honors in 2002.

April Ross Named Pac-10 Player of the Year
Outside hitter April Ross topped off her four-year career at USC by being selected as the Pac-10 Player of the Year by conference coaches on Nov. 25. Ross, a four-time all-conference first-team selection, becomes USC's first-ever Pac-10 Player of the Year and only the second Trojans player to earn conference MVP honors. Setter Cathy Stukel was the first to do so in 1980 as part of the West Coast Athletic Association.

USC Has Five named To All-Conference First Team
A conference record five USC players were named to the All-Pac-10 first team, including April Ross, Emily Adams, Keao Burdine, Bibiana Candelas and Toni Anderson. Eight total players earned all-conference honors. Nicole Davis and Katie Olsovsky were named All-Pac-10 honorable mention and Kimi Freeburg was named Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention.

Five Earn Pac-10 Academic Accolades
Emily Adams has been named to the 2003 Pac-10 All-Academic first team, while Toni Anderson, Bibiana Candelas, Alicia Robinson and April Ross earned honorable mention accolades. Adams, who boasts a 3.67 grade point average as an international relations major, was also named to the Academic All-District VIII first team and was recently selected to the CoSIDA Academic All-American second team. Anderson, a psychology major with a 3.22 GPA, was named an All-District VIII honorable mention pick. This is the first academic honor of the season for Candelas, Robinson and Ross. Candelas is a communications major with a 3.06 overall grade point average, Robinson boasts a 3.22 GPA as a psychology major and Ross is an international relations major with a 3.15 average.

Head Coach Mick Haley
Mick Haley is in his third season as head coach of the Women of Troy. In 2002, he collected his fifth career national title (three NCAA Division I titles, two JC titles) just two years after arriving at Troy. Haley guided USC to the program's first NCAA championship in more than 20 years and became just the second coach in NCAA history to win a national title at two universities (John Dunning is the other). Though hired in 1999 to replace former head coach Lisa Love, Haley completed his term as head coach of the U.S.A. Women's National Team before joining the Trojans in 2001. At the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, he led the U.S. to an unexpected fourth-place finish. Haley coached Texas for 17 seasons (1980-1996) and led the Longhorns to two national championships. He boasts a 860-193-1 (.817) overall record, 610-142 (.811) NCAA Division I record and a 201-13 (.939) career conference mark.

Opponent Notes

No. 14 Minnesota
(26-10, 15-5 to tie for second place in Big Ten Conference)
With two surprising upsets, Minnesota defeated top-seeded Pepperdine, 3-2, and Washington, 3-2, to win the West Regional in Long Beach, Calif., and advance to the program's first-ever Final Four. The Golden Gophers finished in a second-place tie with Illinois in the Big Ten Conference, behind first-place finisher Penn State. During the season, the team recorded victories over six ranked opponents, including Northern Iowa (twice), Wisconsin (twice), Penn State and Michigan State. Senior opposite hitter Cassie Buss - the Big Ten Player of the Year - leads the team with 4.62 kills and 0.84 blocks per game. Libero Paula Gentil earned her second-straight Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honor and paces the team with 5.09 digs per outing. Head coach Mike Herbert is in his eighth season at the helm of the Golden Gopher program.

USC-Minnesota Common Connections
* Minnesota has two players that hail from California - junior outside hitter Trisha Bratford (Reseda, Calif.) and freshman middle blocker Athena Mallakis (Simi Valley, Calif.)
* Minnesota head coach Mike Herbert coached USC standouts April Ross, Emily Adams and Katie Olsovsky this past summer on the U.S. National Team. Olsovsky was the only USC player that stayed to compete at the Pan American Games.

USC-Minnesota Series Record - The teams have met twice in program history, including a Minnesota victory in 1999 and a match that finished in a 1-1 tie in 1979. Minnesota eliminated USC from the NCAA Tournament in 1999 with a 3-2 victory in a second-round match played at the Lyon Center.

Opponent Comparisons	Kpg	Pct.	Apg	SApg	Dpg	Bpg
Minnesota 16.66 .244 15.45 1.13 17.46 2.95
USC 17.72 .346 16.36 1.59 16.73 3.22

No. 2 Hawai'i
(36-1, 13-0 for first place in Western Athletic Conference)
Hawai'i is coming off a 3-0 victory over Illinois and 3-1 win over Georgia Tech to win its own NCAA Pacific Regional last week. The Wahine have won 35 consecutive matches since starting the season 1-1 with a win over Kansas State in the opener and a loss to USC in the NACWAA State Farm Volleyball Classic Championship. Hawai'i nearly swept through conference play, losing only one game to Nevada on Nov. 6. Senior outside hitter Kim Willoughby earned her third-straight WAC Player of the Year honor this season and is leading the team with 6.65 kills per game, in addition to hitting at a .385 clip. Freshman setter Kanoe Kamana'o was named WAC Freshman of the Year and is averaging 16.83 assists per game. Senior middle blockers Lauren Duggins and Maja Gustin, senior outside hitter Nohea Tano, Willoughby and Kamana'o were all named to the all-tournament team. Duggins leads the team with 1.25 blocks per game. Head coach Dave Shoji is in his 28th season at Hawai'i.

Earlier this season...
USC captured the 2003 NACWAA State Farm Volleyball Championship by defeating second-ranked Hawai'i, 3-0 (30-22, 30-26, 31-29), on Aug. 23 (USC's sweep of both Florida and Hawai'i marked NACWAA's first ever). A multitude of players contributed to the Trojans' efforts, but April Ross and Keao Burdine were honored to the all-tournament team in front of a near-sellout crowd. Ross was named MVP after averaging 3.3 kills, 4.2 digs and 4.0 points per game in the two-day tourney. Hawai'i opened with a brief lead in game one, but the Women of Troy knotted the score at 7-7 and set the tone for a competitive match-up. The two teams alternated with the lead until a four-point rally put the Trojans ahead 19-15 and helped them break away for a 30-22 opening-game win. At 12-12 in game two the Rainbows managed to gain a slight edge, but led by no more than four points. Down 23-21, the Women of Troy caught up and pulled ahead with a six-point rally leading to a 30-26 victory. The Trojans led for nearly all of game three and were just three points away from a match victory, when Hawai'i fought its way back and captured its first lead at 28-27. Despite a boisterous crowd, USC maintained in control. The Wahine reached match point at 29-28, but the Trojans put down three consecutive kills - one by Ross and two by Bibiana Candelas - to capture the tournament championship.

USC-Hawai'i Common Connections
* Hawai'i boasts four Californians on its roster (Susie Boogaard, Melody Eckmeier, Lauren Duggins and Melissa Villaroman).

USC-Hawai'i Series Record - These two teams first met in 1976 during regular season play. In 1977, the Trojans met Hawai'i in the AIAW Championship final and defeated the Wahine, 3-1, for their second national title. Hawai'i narrowly owns the all-time series advantage with a 17-16 (.515) record.

Opponent Comparisons	Kpg	Pct.	Apg	SApg	Dpg	Bpg
Hawai'i 18.18 .341 16.83 1.75 16.98 2.61
USC 17.72 .346 16.36 1.59 16.73 3.22

No. 3 Florida
(35-1, 16-0 for first place in Southeastern Conference)
Since suffering a 3-0 loss to USC to start the season and then beating Kansas State 3-1 in the NACWAA State Farm Classic consolation match, Florida has swept 34 consecutive opponents, winning an NCAA record 103 consecutive games. To advance to the Final Four, Florida defeated Colorado State and Penn State at its own regional. During the season, Florida defeated ranked opponents such as Kansas State, UC Santa Barbara, Stanford and Minnesota. Senior outside hitter Aury Cruz was named the SEC Player of the Year and currently leads the team with 4.42 kills per game. Joining Cruz on the all-conference first team were teammates Benevia Jenkins and Jane Collymore. Jenkins, a senior middle blocker, is averaging a team-best 1.46 blocks per game and Collymore, a sophomore outside hitter, is second on the team with 3.62 kills per outing. Head coach Mary Wise is in her 13th season at Florida.

Earlier this season...
USC opened the 2003 season by defeating third-ranked Florida, 3-0 (31-29, 30-17, 30-25), on Aug. 21 in the first-round match of the NACWAA/State Farm Volleyball Classic in Honolulu, Hawai'i. In a rematch of last year's NCAA Semifinal, the Women of Troy managed to once again find their rhythm and utilize their versatility in order to beat a powerful Florida squad. After an early Trojan 4-1 lead to open the match, Florida charged back and eventually took an 8-6 lead thanks to consecutive blocks and strong play from senior Aury Cruz. But the teams matched each other point-for-point after that point, both trying to shake the first-game jitters. The Gators were first to reach match point (29-28), but a kill by Bibiana Candelas halted their attempt. Katie Olsovsky and Emily Adams posted a block for the following point and April Ross sealed the first win, 31-29, with a kill. The Women of Troy kept a safe distance from the Gators for the remainder of the match. USC defeated Florida 30-17 in game two after hitting at a .480 clip and holding Florida to an .057 attack percentage with only 12 kills and 10 attack errors. The Gators fought back in game three but managed to lead only once (17-16). At that point, consecutive kills by Olsovsky and Staci Venski provided a spark and USC rolled to the final 30-25 victory.

USC-Florida Common Connections
* Nicole Davis and Florida's Lauren Moscovic both hail from Stockton, Calif. Davis prepped at Lincoln High, while Moscovic attended St. Mary's High.
* Freshman Debora Seilhamer and Florida's Aury Cruz both hail from Puerto Rico.
* Florida boasts two Californians on its roster (Lauren Moscovic and Jacque Robinson).

USC-Florida Series Record - Book-ending the season with match-ups against the Gators has become a common practice for the Women of Troy. In 2002, USC faced Florida at the BYU Mizuno Classic at the start of the season on Sept. 22 (defeating UF 3-0) then beat the Gators, 3-1, in the NCAA Semifinals on Dec. 19. This season, USC opened the year with a 3-0 win over Florida in the first round of the NACWAA State Farm Volleyball Classic and could end the season against the Gators if both teams advance to this year's championship. The Trojans are 4-1 all-time against the Gators (2-1 in the postseason, 2-0 in the regular season).

Opponent Comparisons	Kpg	Pct.	Apg	SApg	Dpg	Bpg
Florida 16.66 .344 14.75 2.09 14.95 3.17
USC 17.72 .346 16.36 1.59 16.73 3.22
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