Volleyball loses to USC in NCAA Tournament

DYLAN BROCKMEYER | ASST. SPORTS EDITOR

The University of San Diego volleyball team’s season came to an exciting conclusion as the Toreros lost a well-fought match in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Galen Center to the No. 1 seeded University of Southern California Trojans. Our Toreros lost 3-0 in a 20-25, 23-25, 13-25 match last Friday Dec. 4. The team ended their season with a 22-10 overall record.

The Toreros had been riding high and playing well as they entered the tournament. Coming off a fresh 3-0 sweep in the first round against the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks just the night before, the Toreros were looking forward to playing another challenging opponent. In the first set, our Toreros jumped out to a 4-1 lead but were quickly matched by a three point rebuttal by the Lumberjacks. After quite a bit of back and forth the game was up to 10 all until a huge kill hit made by sophomore opposite hitter (OPP) Jayden Kennedy sparked the women’s momentum to bring them ahead 15-11. With this spark of energy, the Toreros shutout and outscored the Lumberjacks, claiming the first set at 25-15.

USD continued right on with some fast paced play. Our USD Toreros jumped ahead 8-1 and forced the NAU Lumberjacks into a timeout.

Something in the timeout must have helped because the Lumberjacks began to slowly creep back up on the Toreros lead, but senior OPP Canace Finley came in with a big kill to help the Toreros go on an 8-3 run and come out on top. The Toreros won the second set 25-19.

A match wouldn’t be worth watching if the other team didn’t appear to be making a little comeback, which is exactly what the Lumberjacks did starting out the third set. They claimed a 4-1 lead early on, but could barely keep our Toreros at bay. USD fought its way back throughout most of the frame to ultimately take back the lead thanks to a kill from freshman outside hitter Lauren Fuller.

With our Toreros climbing back, they forced the Lumberjacks into another timeout. They still went point for point against USD until we again needed a timeout. When NAU again grabbed the next two points, our ladies in blue took their final timeout and emerged victorious after a strong close to the match.

Fuller felt that her’s and the team’s confidence was high coming from their victory and it gave them more battle strength as the Toreros prepared to face USC.

“The NAU win gave us tons of confidence going into the USC match,” Fuller said. “We had our first game jitters out of the way and felt comfortable on the court. We were most excited about continuing our season and playing USC, a fantastic opponent.”

Sophomore setter Kristen Gengenbacher agrees with her teammate that the win against NAU brought more spirit and enthusiasm heading into the second round of the tournament.

“After the NAU win, we were more excited than ever to keep going,” Gengenbacher said. “The great thing about the tournament is that with each game, we get more and more energy and motivation to prove ourselves. The NAU win gave us that. We know we have to keep looking forward to the next game, but we were very excited, especially after the dramatic end of the third set against NAU.”

Unfortunately, the roles had seemingly reversed in second round competition. Our Toreros were now the ones who got swept by USC.

Fuller achieved a career high of 18 kills in the match. The defensive hitters had a very strong presence in this match as freshman middle blocker (MB) Addie Picha recorded a team best three blocks and junior libero Hunter Jennings had 14 digs.

However, despite our Toreros’ best efforts, we could not beat the Trojans and their senior opposite hitter Samantha Bricio. The supremely talented Bricio had a match best 21 kills and senior MB Alicia Ogoms had 11 kills of her own.

Looking back, Gengenbacher acknowledges that every player might have regrets, but she feels the team really brought everything they had to the court.

“I honestly think our team left it all out there,” Gengenbacher said. “USC is such a hard environment to play in, and at the end of the day I’m proud of how we performed. There were certain plays throughout the game that showed the kind of team we are, plays that I don’t think a lot of teams in this country could make, but unfortunately, things didn’t go our way that match.”

Head coach Jennifer Petrie was proud of the level of competition and the performance of the Toreros against both teams. The only difference between our ladies and the Trojans was more aggression in the offensive line.

“Our goal was to play aggressively both with our attack and our serve,” Petrie said. “There are times to play conservatively, trying to eliminate unforced errors, but against the number one team in the country our goal was to go for it. The girls played with passion, intensity and heart. USC is loaded with offensive talent this year, and we had a difficult time containing them defensively.”

Coach Petrie reflected on the difference of strategies between the two matches. While the level of play was extremely high in both, NAU gave Petrie’s squad more chances to set up defensively and focus on eliminating a few offensive players at a time.

“While playing NAU we could focus on one or two offensive players at a time, thus making it easy to set up our block and defense,” Petrie said. “With USC, they have many players that can terminate a rally, making it difficult to emphasize a certain zone or area to defend.”

Preparation will already be starting this spring in order for our Toreros to claim that ultimate goal of NCAA champions next season. Fuller can’t wait for next year to start, but is more than happy with her play in 2015.

“I’m very happy with how my first season went,” Fuller said. “Of course I had nerves at the beginning of the year but by the end I felt like I had been playing collegiate volleyball for over a year. Every year a team goal is to be a national champion so our preparation for that starts in the spring. Individual goals of mine include making the WCC All-Conference team.”

Coach Petrie also strives to make the team champions, we’ll be seeing more strength and WCC winnings and another NCAA tournament selection.

“We fell one spot short of our goal to win a West Coast Conference championship,” Petrie said. “Being selected to the NCAA tournament is a testament to the strength of our program and the hard work and dedication of the USD volleyball players. Next season we will look forward to achieving the goal of WCC champion as well as striving to be an NCAA champion.”

While our Toreros will not be playing, the 2015 NCAA Regional Volleyball Tournament will still be coming to the JCP. The action starts Friday at 5:30 p.m. where the Loyola Marymount University Lions take on the Kansas Jayhawks.

To cap off the night, No. 1 overall seeded USC will face off against the No. 16 overall national seeded Creighton Bluejays. The games will all take place in the JCP and tickets will be $15 for spectators and the match will even be broadcast on ESPN3 and ESPNU respectively.

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