After recording three easy wins at home to open the season, the No. 10 USC women’s volleyball team heads to Honolulu for the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic for games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 5 p.m. Hawaiian time. With a challenging conference schedule on the horizon, this weekend’s non-conference games with quality opponents will reveal how ready the Women of Troy are to compete for a Pac-10 title as well as a national title.
Friday USC plays Michigan State (3-0) in their opener. In 2009, the Spartans clipped USC at the start of the season in East Lansing. Saturday the Women of Troy encounter New Mexico (2-1). Despite two victories, the Lobos were swept by No. 4 Stanford in dominating fashion and have yet to prove they can play with the nation’s elite.
While the first two games of the tournament are a focus, Sunday is the marquee matchup for USC. The Women of Troy square off with No. 4 Hawaii, who eliminated USC in the NCAA tournament a year ago. The Rainbow Wahine are already off to a fast start. In their opening weekend, they won all three of their matches, including two against ranked opponents in No. 22 San Diego and No. 16 UCLA.
Even though Hawaii ended USC’s season last year, coach Mick Haley doesn’t see Sunday’s showdown as a revenge game. Instead, he sees it as a barometer. “Right now we know Hawaii is good. It’s an opportunity for us to get better by playing them on their home court,” said Haley, who recorded his 1000th victory as a college coach last Friday against Loyola Marymount. “It’s a chance for us to practice playing them in their facility with their crowd, see if we can weather that, and still see if we can win.”
Junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter echoed that sentiment. “This is a chance to see where we are. With six recruits, all of them are going to get to play so we get to see how much improvement we can get out of [this tough game].” Despite the team being filled with youth, Jupiter believes the 2010 squad is better equipped to tackle Hawaii than the one that lost to the Rainbow Wahine in 2009. “[We are] bigger, more aggressive. I feel we work better together. We help each other a lot better on the court so if I struggle I know someone will pick me up. Our personalities match a lot better.”
Furthermore, USC’s vaunted recruiting class will be on the road in a hostile environment for the first time this season. Despite the magnitude of the match, Haley isn’t concerned about how the rookies will respond. “This is a pretty experienced freshman group. They listen and do well in their preparation, and I have been really impressed,” Haley said. “They came here to play so they are ready to get after it.”
National titles aren’t decided in September, but three victories this weekend would go a long way for USC. In addition to a boost in the rankings, it would serve as a statement that this squad is ready to turn its sky-high expectations into reality.