Women's Volleyball Match of the Week preview: USC at UCLA

UCLA Athletics / John McGillen

Who: No. 3 USC at No. 13 UCLA

When: Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 7:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks with Anne Marie Anderson and Tammy Blackburn

Pac-12 Networks’ Women’s Volleyball Match of the Week coverage begins with the crosstown rivalry to open up conference play, as third-ranked and undefeated USC heads to Westwood to take on No. 13 UCLA. The Trojans are looking to stop a two-match losing skid against the Bruins after getting swept by UCLA in 2014.

The Story So Far: No. 3 USC (12-0, 0-0 Pac-12)

Judging by the way this year has started for the Trojans, you’d have no idea that they are coming off their worst season in nearly 25 years. Apparently a 16-16 mark with a second round exit in the NCAA tournament didn’t sit too well with Mick Haley and Co., because the Trojans absolutely shredded their non-conference schedule. Not only did USC go undefeated, it has also only dropped two sets all year. At one point, the Trojans won an unfathomable 30 consecutive sets before dropping the second game against Oklahoma last weekend (USC eventually defeated the Sooners in four).

USC hasn’t gotten fat on the "Little Sisters of the Poor," either, having defeated three top-15 teams at the time of the match in No. 7 North Carolina (3-1 in the season opener), No. 11 BYU (3-0) and No. 10 Kentucky (3-0). The Trojans have seen a steady rise in the polls as a result, spiking up from No. 22 in the preseason to eighth in a week after knocking off two ranked opponents and settling in at third the last couple of weeks.

The Story So Far: No. 13 UCLA (9-1, 0-0 Pac-12)

In the words of the great Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, finally… UCLA women’s volleyball… IS BACK… in Westwood. Wednesday’s bout with USC is the Bruins’ first at Pauley Pavilion (their first two matches were at the John Wooden Center) and comes after playing eight straight away from home. The road slowed the Bruins not, however – after a surprising three-set loss to LMU in the second match of the season, UCLA has been on a tear, dropping just three sets during their current eight-match win streak.

And while they haven’t exactly played a murderers’ row of opponents, the Bruins can boast two top-20 wins with four-setters over then-No. 17 (now No. 11) Hawai’i on the road and then-No. 18 (now receiving votes) San Diego at a neutral site. Like their crosstown counterparts, the 2014 Sweet 16 participants have been on the rise in the AVCA rankings, dropping to 25th after the loss to LMU before rising 12 spots over the last three weeks.

Three Players to Watch – USC:

1. #2 Samantha Bricio (Outside Hitter, Senior) – Currently wanted for murdering a Molten volleyball in the first set of the New Mexico match (I couldn’t find the match highlights, but it’s one of the best kills I’ve ever seen), Bricio is by far the most dangerous server in the conference. The Pac-12 record holder for career service aces with 278 (nobody else has 200), Bricio had a day earlier this year where she amassed 13 aces in two matches. Oh yeah, did I also mention that she leads the conference in kills per set (5.03) and won Pac-12 Player of the Week honors three times in a row (one of two players to ever do that in the same year)?

2. #8 Alicia Ogoms (Middle Blocker, Senior) – The first-ever scholarship volleyball player at USC from Canada (she’s from Winnipeg, so go Jets) has really turned it up in her swan song, averaging a conference-best 1.71 blocks per set after having never cracked the 1.00 barrier in her previous three seasons. She’s also a sizable threat in the attack, averaging nearly two kills per set while hitting at a .429 clip.

3. #10 Taylor Whittingham (Libero, Junior)  The Trojans have the conference leader in kills per set in Bricio and Pac-12 trendsetter in blocks per set in Ogoms, so it really wouldn’t be fair if they had the top digger, right? Yet through 12 matches, the Rancho Santa Margarita, California product does indeed top the league with 4.74 digs per set. The 2014 AVCA All-America honorable mention libero had 571 digs in 115 sets last season, which is tied for sixth all time at USC for now, but might be seventh after the 2015 season if USC would stop sweeping all of its opponents and play some more sets (Taylor’s got records to chase people).

Three Players to Watch – UCLA:

1. #2 Jordan Anderson (Outside Hitter, Junior)  The Bruins had huge shoes to fill at outside hitter with Karsta Lowe and her 703 kills (5.96 per set) from 2014 graduating, but fortunately a 2014 AVCA All-America honorable mention and First Team All-Big 12er stepped in from West Virginia to pick up a good bit of the slack. The Mountaineer-turned-Bruin is second in the conference in kills per set (4.70) in her first year in Westwood and is coming off a match last weekend at UC Irvine where she ripped off 21 kills in a three-set sweep of the Anteaters.

2. #9 Zana Muno (Setter, Freshman)  Josh Rosen isn’t the only true freshman quarterback on campus. The UCLA signal caller on the volleyball hardwood has enjoyed a very good start to her collegiate career, averaging 10.15 assists per set (fourth in the conference) and earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors after busting out 81 helpers in two matches against a ranked USD squad and UC Santa Barbara a couple of weekends prior. She might not be the only setter who plays for the Bruins Wednesday night, though, as Ryann Chandler has appeared in 16 sets this year and was the primary setter in three matches.

3. #11 Taylor Formico (Defensive Specialist/Libero, Junior)  As a freshman at UC Santa Barbara, Formico led the nation with 792 digs. She’s surrounded by better athletes now at UCLA so she doesn’t need to do as much in the back row, but 3.88 digs per set this year is still good for fifth in the Pac-12. And she can still put up ridiculous numbers, posting 23 digs in a sweep of SMU on Sept. 12.

Three Notes to Know

1. Climbing Up the Record Books: Samantha Bricio has 1,618 kills for her USC career, good for sixth all-time in program history. She needs 19 more to surpass Lonise Norfleet for fifth, so if Wednesday’s match goes four or five sets, 19 kills would become more probable than possible.

2. Lucky No. .300: UCLA has won 58 consecutive matches when hitting at least .300 as a team, something it has done twice this year (Sept. 5 against Iowa and Sept. 18 at UC Irvine).

3. Conflicting Series History: So who owns the all-time edge in the series? Depends on who you ask. According to UCLA’s game notes, the Bruins are 60-55 all-time against the Trojans. According to USC’s game notes, the Trojans are 55-49 all-time against UCLA. The 11-match difference can be attributed to USC not counting its pre-1976 matches towards the series history, all 11 of which were won by the Bruins (USC did not award scholarships for volleyball before 1976).

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