2014 USC Women's Volleyball Season Outlook

    USC senior setter Hayley Crone

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    Aug. 18, 2014

    By USC Sports Information Intern Katie Ryan

    LOS ANGELES - While it may be young, the 2014 USC women’s volleyball team enters the season with relentless intensity as the Trojans focus their sights on the goal of bringing a seventh national championship to Troy.

    Fans of the Women of Troy look forward to the return of power players Ebony Nwanebu and Samantha Bricio.

    The 2013 AVCA Freshman of the Year, outside hitter Nwanebu is a true impact weapon for the Trojans. She was an AVCA first-team All-American and led the team with 3.47 kills per set; totaling 413 kills in her first season. Nwanebu’s .358 hitting percentage was the sixth highest in the Pac-12 and she was the only freshman and non-middle to break into the league’s top ten for hitting percentage. Over the summer, Nwanebu was chosen as one of 12 players to play on the U.S. Collegiate National Team that toured China and donned the red, white, and blue with Team USA at the Montreux Master’s tournament in Sweden.

    Bricio was named to the AVCA All-America second team and is a major asset from the service line. As a sophomore, she led the NCAA in service aces and set a USC record with 85 aces in a single season. Bricio, who herself was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2012, represented the Trojans on the Pac-12 All-Star Team over the summer.

    On the defensive side of the net, the Women of Troy must replace the services of three-time first-team All-American libero Natalie Hagglund. However, 14th-year Trojan head coach Mick Haley plans on reconfiguring his defensive scheme to fit his personnel.

    “We had previously designed our defense to accent Natalie,” said Haley. “We’ve since changed that in order to put less pressure on the position. We will replace Natalie by committee. We’ll change what we have the blockers do a little bit, and we’ll cover the court starting at the net a little more. We’ll have to wait to see who steps up so we can best construct our lineup. Once we get that, it’s about developing a role for every player, and people knowing what’s expected of them, so that they can contribute to the team effort. Organization will be the other part. We need to be better organized.”

    Back on the offensive side of the ball, the Trojans will have excellent leadership from senior setter and captain Hayley Crone. Entering her third season as the starting setter, Crone completed 2013 with 812 assists, 12 service aces, and 199 digs. Most importantly, Haley has tremendous confidence in Crone’s on-court ability to lead the Trojans.

    “She plays for the team and doesn’t worry about herself,” said Haley. “It’s great. Hayley has been really good for us her whole career here. She always competes hard, she always delivers the ball well, and it’s just fun to watch her play.”

    Crone will work alongside sophomore setter Alice Pizzasegola who shared duties in a 6-2 offense in 2013. Pizzasegola put up 701 assists, 13 service aces, and 165 digs, as a freshman.

    Both setters will have plenty of returning weapons to work with including a pair of upperclassmen middle blockers. Senior Hannah Schraer was Troy’s second-leading blocker a season ago with 116 blocks (1.01 bps). Schraer also poses an offensive threat coming off a 159-kill junior campaign. USC’s other returning middle is junior Alicia Ogoms who was used sparingly in 2013 but showed great ability as a freshman.

    On the outsides, the Trojans bring back some proven firepower in sophomore Elise Ruddins, who was the team’s third-leading scorer in 2013. Ruddins missed parts of her freshman season due to illness but finished with 187 kills (2.40 kps) behind only Bricio and Nwanebu and collected 36 blocks as a three-rotation player. Senior outside Emily Young (1.39 kps) can score on both offense and defense (0.32 bps) and was often used as a blocking specialist in 2013.

    Defensively, the reins left by Hagglund will need to be taken up by one of three sophomore liberos. Anne Marie Schmidt, Taylor Whittingham, and Kelly Wimmer will each vie for that right and privilege. Despite being short on playing time as freshmen, the three competitors have the high school and club credentials to step in and make an impact for the Trojan defense immediately.

    When 2014 opens, the Women of Troy will debut a highly touted freshmen class, a class that is ranked No. 2 by PrepVolleyball. USC welcomes the services of opposite hitter Brittany Abercrombie, who led her club team to a Junior National Championship in July; outside hitter Lauryn Gillis, the 2012 Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year; outside hitter Taylor Wheatley; and middle blocker Jordan Dunn. The Trojans will also add a late transfer from Illinois in outside hitter Sarah Livingston to their crop of newcomers.

    “We’ve already seen some great things out of the freshmen,” said Haley. “Jordan Dunn is going to battle to start. Her movement at the net is amazing. Brittany Abercrombie has shown that she will also battle for playing time right away. Lauryn Gillis is playing in a completely different system than she has played the last four years, but she has shown great heart. Both Taylor Wheatley and Sarah Livingston have shown that they will compete hard throughout the year. Taylor has practiced really well and continues to get stronger. Sarah’s conversion from being a basketball player all last season at Illinois is coming along. She attended our camp as a junior in high school, but went on to play basketball. We’ve always liked her game so when she asked to walk on, we let her, and she has made an impact so far and just keeps getting better and better.”

    The Trojans open 2014 on the road at the Community Bankers Volleyball Classic hosted by Pacific on Aug. 29. USC will play six contests on the road before it plays its first matches at Galen Center as host to the USC Classic, Sept. 11-12. The Women of Troy face a tough pre-conference schedule that requires them to face four teams ranked in AVCA preseason top 25, including No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Florida, No. 19 Kentucky, and No. 23 Creighton.

    Pac-12 play begins on Sept. 23 when the Trojans face crosstown rival UCLA. The team will only face the desert schools once each, this year. USC welcomes Arizona State to Galen Center on Sept. 26 and will take on Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., on Nov. 26.

    October’s slate includes USC’s trip to Washington to challenge the defending Pac-12 Champion Huskies on Oct. 1, and Washington State (Oct. 3). The Trojans get two home weekends in a row before traveling to the Bay Area to face California (Oct. 22) and Stanford (Oct. 26). USC wraps the season with Senior Night at home versus UCLA (Nov. 28) in a match that will be nationally televised on ESPNU.

    The Trojans seek a 24th consecutive berth (32nd overall) into the NCAA tournament this season. The 2014 championship will be hosted by the Big 12 Conference and the Oklahoma City All-Sports Association at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City (Dec. 18-20).

    Around Troy, high expectations for women’s volleyball are nothing out of the ordinary. The Trojans are looking to win their seventh national title in the sport, and while the team is young, strong bonds and continuity will factor greatly as the Women of Troy hope to separate from all the other teams in the country.

    “We’re a really tight team,” said Haley. “Even though we have five newcomers, and 11 total freshmen and sophomores, everyone has been here for more than a month, and you can tell they all really like each other. One of the things all coaches will tell you is that you’re trying to get your team to be a unit, and I think we’ve already accomplished that. The fact that you can put 16 players together, and they all like each other is a bonus right away. That’s really going to be one of our biggest strengths this season.”

    For more information on the USC women’s volleyball team, visit USCTrojans.com and follow @USCWomensVolley on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.