Fab freshman helps Trojans past rival
Kevin Goheen, NCAA.com
DAYTON, Ohio – Southern California volleyball coach Mick Haley had a good feeling about his team’s chances against No. 3 seed Stanford heading into Saturday’s Dayton NCAA Division I regional final.
It was a much better feeling than a coach whose team had lost six of seven sets against an opponent probably should’ve beat.
The Trojans were worthy of their coach’s feelings.
Sixth-seeded USC avenged a pair of regular-season losses to the Cardinal with a 20-25, 25-17, 22-25, 26-24, 16-14 win Saturday afternoon at UD Arena. The Trojans came back from a 2-1 deficit after three sets and staved off one match point before winning the final two points; the clincher coming on a block at the net by freshmen Falyn Fonoimoana and Alexis Olgard on an attack by Stanford senior All-American Cassidy Lichtman.
“I saw Cassidy starting her approach and I had a gut feeling that I had to go,” said Fonoimoana, who was named MVP of the region. “I don’t even remember the block. I only remember turning around to my teammates and going ‘Yehhsss!’ We were all screaming.
“If Cassidy would’ve hit my hands on the other side, I don’t know if she would’ve gotten a kill or anything but I knew I was going to block that ball.”
USC (29-4), which won for the 15th time in its last 16 matches, advances to play the winner of tonight’s Seattle regional championship between California and Washington next Thursday in one national semifinal at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
It is USC’s first regional championship since 2007. The Trojans can capture the program’s seventh national title with two more victories.
Stanford (27-4) and its three senior All-Americans – Lichtman, Alix Klineman and Gabi Ailes – were denied a third regional title.
They were part of Cardinal teams that lost to Penn State in the national championship matches in 2007 and 2008. Their season ended in the regional semifinals last year.
“We had the goal of going to the Final Four and the national championship, that’s what we’ve been talking about all season,” said Lichtman, who had nine kills, 30 assists and 13 digs. “I think right now, for me, it’s just shock that that’s not where we’re going tomorrow. We’re proud of how hard we worked to get here and we know that losing a regional final is still a huge accomplishment. (Even) so, we’re still unhappy.”
Klineman, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, finished with 28 kills on a game-high 79 attacks and added 10 digs. The Trojans made life tough on her, however, holding her to a .266 hitting percentage. Klineman had hit .373 and .433 against USC in the two regular season matches.
Fonoimoana set career highs with 25 kills and 14 digs. The Trojans edged Stanford, 75-74, in the dig category as both teams had five players in double figures led by freshman libero Natalie Hagglund’s 16.
“That’s tremendous because that is the only way you’re going to beat Stanford,” said Haley. “We said before the match started that we had to win the digging battle to have a chance to beat Stanford. We were behind for three games in that category.”
Junior setter Kendall Bateman had 64 assists and 15 digs for USC, while junior outside hitter Alex Jupiter had 23 kills and 15 digs.
Stanford won 14 of the final 21 points of the set to win their seventh consecutive set against the Trojans.
USC ended that streak in the second set. The Trojans converted .464 of their attacks, committing just one error in 28 chances after making five errors in the opening set. At the same time, the Trojans held Stanford to .188 hitting in that set.
The Cardinal had seven hitting errors in the second set after committing just two in the first set.
The Cardinal regrouped to take the third set, pulling away after being tied 18-18, to win 25-22.
The fourth set included 16 ties and seven lead changes before USC prevailed, overcoming one missed set point, to send the match to a decisive fifth set.
There were seven more ties and three lead changes in the final set.
The match had a total of 47 ties and 17 lead changes.