Volleyball splits weekend games against Pac-12 foes
Freshman setter Raquel Lázaro has tallied 636 assists in the 2018 season. She has also slated 137 digs so far. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)The women’s volleyball team returned from its weekend on the road with one win, losing in three straight sets to No. 2 Stanford on Friday and squeezing out a four-set victory over Cal on Sunday. The bout against Stanford proved to be a tough one for the Trojans, who had been riding a five-game win streak coming into the match. Their opponents, armed with bigger players, more consistent passing percentages and a dominant frontline, rebutted by handing USC its fifth consecutive Stanford loss. The Women of Troy put up an outstanding effort in the first and second sets, tying their opponents 12 times with a hard serving game. On multiple occasions, Stanford pulled ahead by stringing together 4 to 5 consecutive points. “Almost every match is a serve and pass match. You need to win the serve and pass battle to have a chance, especially against a team as big and physical as Stanford … it was the same deal with BYU,” head coach Brent Crouch said. “When you have a 6-foot, 6-foot-1-inch blocker facing an even taller hitter that can jump, it’s always an uphill battle.” Stanford junior Kathryn Plummer, an outside hitter who stands at 6-foot-5 and was voted the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Year in 2017, was a tough obstacle. Crouch said he holds a high amount of respect for Plummer and expressed confidence in her ability to snatch the title again this year. “[Plummer] is a great server, a great blocker and a next-level hitter,” Crouch said. “I haven’t seen anybody in the same galaxy as her this year. Not even close.” Plummer contributed a total of nine digs and 18 kills, including the game ending spike. On the other hand, the Trojans’ three outside hitters — juniors Emily Baptista and Khalia Lanier and sophomore Brooke Botkin — had an uncharacteristically quiet match; none broke into the double digits for kills. Meanwhile, freshman setter Raquel Lázaro and senior libero Victoria Garrick combined for a total of 16 digs and 30 assists. The Women of Troy fared much better against Cal. The Golden Bears took the first set, due to a flat Trojan defense and Berkeley’s sophomore outside hitter Mima Merkovich. USC claimed the next two frames thanks to Lanier, who had 26 total kills. Five were earned in succession, which quickly turned the third set in USC’s favor. Garrick and Lázaro continued to impress by leading the game in digs (18 and 17, respectively). The freshman setter was even able to pick up 52 assists, marking her seventh season double-double. The Trojans lost their momentum again in the initial stages of the fourth, nearly losing the set twice. Crouch noted one of many shifts in Cal’s game plan, which involved setting more to the right in order to increase pressure on Lanier and Botkin. “We did not handle that well,” Crouch said. “Our hitters on both sides need to do a much better job in those situations and it’s something we’ll look at during practice.” USC’s match points were also heavily contested. During her third attempt, Botkin landed her 20th kill of the match to end it all. USC now boasts seven back-to-back wins against Cal. The Trojans will return to Galen Center for the next four matches of the season. Garrick, who assembled a commendable weekend performance, is eager to put on a show for the home crowd. However, she acknowledges that the team must mitigate certain weaknesses in order to do well against high-caliber teams. “It comes down to being gritty and doing anything to keep that ball off the ground,” Garrick said. “But in general, I’m excited for us to get back in the gym this week.” USC will face off against Oregon State on Thursday and Oregon on Sunday.