Kevin Goheen, Special to NCAA.com
DAYTON, Ohio – The NCAA women’s Division I volleyball Dayton regional final will be an all-Pac-10 affair.
Third-seeded Stanford and No. 6 seed Southern California fought off challenges from Big Ten teams Ohio State and Indiana on Friday to advance to Saturday’s regional final at UD Arena with a berth in the national semifinals at stake. The match will begin at 4 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.
USC swept Indiana (25-18, 25-21, 25-20) in the day’s first match, while Stanford needed four sets to beat the Buckeyes (25-21, 24-26, 25-19, 25-18).
Stanford (27-3) won both of its regular season matchups against USC (28-4), winning in four sets on Oct. 8 in Los Angeles and then sweeping the Trojans on Nov. 7 in Palo Alto. Stanford, co-champion of the Pac-10 with California, is playing in the final eight for the fourth time in the last five seasons, while USC is making its first regional final appearance since 2007. The Trojans finished second in the conference.
“They got us twice this year but I know Stanford is going to be worried because beating somebody three times is never easy,” said USC coach Mick Haley. “We’ve got nothing to lose. We’ll have a pretty good game plan but it will be different.”
USC entered the regional tournament ranked sixth in the nation in hitting percentage (.295) but was held to a .230 combined hitting percentage in the two matches against Stanford. The Trojans also committed a combined 37 errors in those two matches.
USC is a youthful team. The Trojans start three freshmen, a sophomore and three juniors. Their rotation against Indiana included just one senior, defensive specialist Geena Urango.
“(Haley) says all the time that we’re not freshman anymore,” said freshman outside hitter Falyn Fonoimoana, who had eight kills and six digs against Indiana. “We have come into our own through the Pac-10 season because the Pac-10 is another level that I’ve never seen before. Every day has been a new goal not just for me but for everyone. It’s been a great learning curve for all of us.”
While Stanford has 10 freshman and sophomores of its own, the Cardinal is anchored by senior All-Americans Alix Klineman, Cassidy Lichtman and libero/defensive specialist Gabi Ailes. The trio was part of national runner-up squads in their freshman and sophomore seasons.
Klineman, an outside hitter, was named this season’s Pac-10 Player of the Year and led the Cardinal with 29 kills against Ohio State. Lichtman showed off her versatility by totaling 11 kills and 27 assists against Ohio State, her 17th double-double of the season.
“It’s a huge difference for us and not just because they’ve got experience and are really good players – great players,” said Stanford coach John Dunning. “This year it’s been everything else they’ve done for the team and helped the younger players come along. It’s easy to be a freshman and to get scared or over-excited but they look at these guys and get a really good model of how you’re supposed to feel, how you can feel and what you do on the court. Frustration doesn’t help you but being excited for each other does.”
That composure was evident against Ohio State. The Buckeyes had won the second set and led 13-11 in the third before Stanford went on a 14-6 run to take the set and a 2-1 lead. The Cardinal jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the fourth set and never trailed.
USC has won 14 of its last 15 matches, with the only loss coming at Stanford. The Cardinal lead the all-time series 55-18.
“This is USC and even in conference it’s a match we get up for,” said Lichtman. “It’s a traditional rivalry, they’re always a good team and there’s tradition in both programs. I’m thinking that we’re going to get pretty excited for (Saturday).”