Cougars head to Hollywood for games against USC and UCLA


Freshman middle blocker Taylor Mims spikes the ball against Washington during a match in Bohler Gym, Sept. 24, 2015.

After splitting its first two conference matches in Bohler Gymnasium last weekend, the Washington State volleyball team is headed to Los Angeles for matches against two top-ranked Pac-12 foes.

The Cougars (12-2, 1-1 Pac-12) will play No. 2 USC (14-0, 2-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Galen Center. They will wrap up the weekend with a match against No. 11 UCLA (10-2, 1-1) at 11 a.m. on Sunday in the John Wooden Center.

The last time the Cougars beat a ranked opponent was in California as they topped the then-No. 23 California in November 2013. However, Head Coach Jen Greeny doesn’t necessarily put any stock into that statistic.

“We don’t worry about the rankings because the Pac-12, every single year, every single week, many of the schools that we are playing are top-ranked, so it’s really nothing new,” Greeny said at a press conference.

The Trojans lead the Pac-12 Conference in wins, while WSU is in fourth place and UCLA is in fifth. However, WSU is first in team aces per set at 1.96, which is ranked sixth nationally. The constant emphasis on serving has not been lost on the team’s young players.

“We work on serving every practice; we make a big deal about it,” said freshman outside hitter Haley DeSales. “You aren’t allowed to finish the drill until you get so many good serves, and we’ll take as long as we need. We think it’s a big part of our game, so we make sure to really focus on that every day.”

The Cougars are led by junior setter Haley MacDonald and junior outside hitter Kyra Holt, who rank second and third in the Pac-12 with 0.48 and 0.43 serve aces per set, respectively. USC senior outside hitter Samantha Bricio leads the conference with 0.85 aces per set; she also ranks first with 0.75 aces per set in Pac-12-only matches.

“She’s always been their go-to player,” senior libero Kate Sommer said of Bricio. “She’s a pretty stellar player. Her serve, her defense, her hit is all-impressive.”

Sommer will have her hands full when facing Bricio’s serve come Friday night, but the libero expressed confidence that she will be able to handle it. Sommer comes into the weekend with 4.43 digs per set on the season, which ranks third in the conference.

That defense has helped the Cougars so far this season and has been essential for them winning matches. WSU is third in the Pac-12 by only allowing a .148 opponent hitting percentage, and The Cougars are 12-0 when they out-hit their opponents. When they don’t, their record is 0-2.

The last time the Cougars beat the Trojans was in large part thanks to Sommer. On November 17, 2013, WSU was down 2-0 to USC in Pullman before winning the next two sets to force a fifth. Down 14-8 in the last set, WSU got the point, and Sommer rotated back to serve. The Cougars came all the way back to tie the set at 14 before eking out a 21-19 win and a 3-2 match victory.

Meanwhile, WSU hasn’t had much luck against the Bruins, having lost each of the last 24 matches in a series dating back to 2003. However, the matches last year were incredibly close, with four of the six sets that UCLA won being by just the minimum two-point margin, including a fifth set win of 15-13 in Los Angeles last November.

“This conference, it’s always a dogfight no matter who you play because everybody’s good,” Sommer said of the close matches. “Nobody likes to lose, so I think when the pressure’s on, teams that like that pressure tend to perform and win. I think any team who wants it can go and get it in those tight situations.”

The Cougars’ MacDonald is ranked third in the Pac-12 with 10.70 assists per set, and after playing then-No. 6 UW at home last week, the team is confident heading into the weekend.

“We’ve been preparing for matches like these all preseason,” DeSales said. “We feel confident – now that we’ve had these games under our belt – that we can take it to anyone in the country now. We think that we can hold our own with USC, and we think we have a good shot this weekend.”

Live audio for each of two matches will be available online at