Despite long journey, Pac-12 volleyball all-stars win first match

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Pac-12 Conference

SANMING, China – Despite 39 hours of travel leading up to the Pac-12 Volleyball All-Star Team’s first match Wednesday, the squad defeated the Fujian team 25-23, 20-25, 25-23 and 25-17. 

After departing Los Angeles, the group had a layover in Hong Kong, and spent the afternoon sightseeing in Shanghai. A typhoon lengthened the trip to Sanming, China, where the team will play its first four matches. The flight to Fuzhou, which is typically 50 minutes, was delayed by three hours and then it was a three-and-a-half hour bus ride from there to the hotel.

The Pac-12 team arrived just after 6 a.m., or 12 hours before the first match scheduled against the Chinese Junior National Team. The typhoon that hindered the Conference squad, though, prevented the host country’s junior team from making it to Sanming at all. The Fujian team split its squad to allow the Pac-12 and the US Collegiate National Team, which is accompanying the Pac-12 All-Star team on the tour, to play its first match.  

USC’s Samantha Bricio opened the match with a kill and her signature jump serve, and the team’s traded leads early in the first set. After head coach Jim Moore called timeout down 21-23, the team rallied to score four-straight points on a kill by Arizona State’s Whitney Follette, a block by Stanford’s Madi Bugg, a kill by fellow Cardinal Brittany Howard, and an ace by Taylor Simpson from Colorado.

In the second set, the Pac-12 roared out to a 13-6 lead before a series of errors let the team from Fujian back within reach. The score was 21-20 when the Chinese team rolled five-straight points to even the match at one set each. 

“In the first two sets we were just trying to figure things out like defensive layering, and who likes to dig what ball and hit where,” Bugg, the team’s starting setter, said. “We are still working on that stuff because we haven’t played together that much yet.”

Throughout the match, rain poured outside of the gym and thunder could be heard over the more than 3,000 fans. Fujian had the lead at the first technical timeout, 16-11, and extended it to 20-16 when Howard slipped pursuing the ball. 

The will to win returned to the Pac-12, though, when play resumed. Bricio, who checked in for Howard, went on a tear with a kill and two-straight aces to force the opponent to call timeout. Cal’s Lillian Schonewise partnered with Simpson and Bugg on blocks that scored two of the final points needed to win 25-23.

In the fourth set, the Pac-12 was up 16-12 at the technical timeout and cruised to a 25-17.

“The crowd was really great. They were actually more supportive of defensive plays than offensive plays, which is the opposite of home. Usually people get really excited about hitting the ball hard, but they got excited when people dug the ball, which was fun.”

The Pac-12 team is scheduled to face the full Fujian squad at 8 p.m. local time on Thursday.