No. 1 USC Beach Volleyball is heading up north to compete in the Pac-12 North Invitational tournament hosted at Stanford this weekend. The Trojans will face four conference opponents over the two day tournament: No. 9 Stanford and No. 12 Cal Saturday followed by No. 17 Arizona and Oregon Sunday.
USC enters the tournament having regained the top ranking in the AVCA coaches poll this week after defeating No. 6 LSU and No. 2 TCU at the UCLA invitational last weekend in Manhattan Beach.
The Trojans carry an 18-dual win streak into this week’s tournament.
“We really want to come in and make a statement,” said graduate student Sunny Villapando in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “We have our certain brand of volleyball, which is big and aggressive and fast, and so I think that, when we go in, no matter who we’re playing, we like to keep that consistent look and keep the energy levels the same.”
This weekend, USC will face Cal, Arizona and Oregon for the first time this season. The Trojans have played the Cardinal once already this season, sweeping them 5-0 at Merle Norman Stadium during the Battle for LA Invitational in March.
However, USC looks to focus on themselves.
“Everytime we play it’s a test to get better,” said Head Coach Dain Blanton. “I really like the focus on improvement, rather than watching the scoreboard. But, we play in a game that has a winner and a loser, so you want to be on that winning end, but, ultimately, you want to be getting better.”
For the Trojans, with only three weeks away from the Pac-12 Championships — which they lost last season to crosstown rival UCLA — each dual is a chance to stay aggressive.
“This is the time where we can really step on the gas, or we can hit cruise control,” said graduate student Hailey Harward. “It’s really important to try to keep pushing our limits and get better everyday. The main focus is just to focus on our side and be very locked in and get that one percent better.”
Harward, along with top court partner senior Tina Graudina, were just named the AVCA Beach Volleyball Pair of the Week. Graduate student Julia Scoles and sophomore Delaynie Maple on court three were awarded Pac-12 Pair of the Week as well.
Despite the individual success, the Trojans remain focused on pushing the team forward through the final stretch.
“People are looking at our team because of the team’s success, and then people get pair awards and also individual awards come with that,” Blanton said. “The one thing you get to control is when you play matches.”
For the team, building off each other’s success is key to continuing the 18-dual winning streak.
“I love feeding off of when the team is playing, or in a close match, and they’re doing really well and they win,” Harward said. “To see them going all out for it, it just gives me confidence knowing that each court is doing their best.”
Both Villapando and graduate student Caroline Schafer will hope to bring that energy with them as they face their former teams. Villapando will have the chance to return to Stanford, where she played four seasons as an undergraduate, and Schafer will have her first chance to face the Golden Bears, who she played four seasons with.
Regardless of the unique circumstances, the Trojans are ready and eager to come out to prove their point.
“This group is really, really competitive, and so, regardless of our outcomes every single day we are pushing each other. It’s that competitive energy between each other that propels us forward,” Villapando said. “We’ve reaped some good results in the first half of the season, but, again, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, so we’ve got to finish strong.”
USC’s first match of the weekend is 8 a.m. Saturday against Stanford.
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