A tall tale of a great game

Jon Kondrath

In an emotionally and physically draining match, USC battled for every point but came up just short.

Once upon a time, there was the greatest volleyball team ever. The year before, they lost to the eventual national champions in the NCAA Elite Eight at Texas but were left with that unshakable feeling that they had more to give and more to prove, so they worked even harder in the offseason. They gained muscle and speed, and made sure they were the most physical team in the land.

The next fall, that team got six new freshmen, and each came in ready to fight. Altogether, this group was the 2013 Women of Troy, the USC women’s volleyball team. They were on a mission to win the national championship in Seattle.

During the season, they had their highs and their lows. USC beat Stanford at Maples Pavilion -- but later lost at Washington and Washington State. But one thing remained constant: They were always a team and they fought together through everything.

This team had all of the winning pieces in place for the NCAA tournament: a fierce lineup, home-court advantage, NCAA tournament experience and a chance to avenge two earlier losses to Washington in a regional final. Their spirit was so strong that no player, coach or fan doubted they would win.

AP Photo/Alex Gallardo

The first set showed how close the match would be as the Trojans fought off four set points to win 28-26.

The Trojans fought off four Washington set points to clinch the first set 28-26. On the winning point, Samantha Bricio jumped so high, she almost disappeared into the rafters and yet Washington dug up her attack. As fate would have it, their next attempt landed just a few inches long of the court. Hard-hitting warriors from both sides fought in the second set, but the Trojans won that as well by playing great defense.

Everyone exhaled when the teams went to their locker rooms for the break, but the battle was far from over. Like dark magic, Washington found a way to wheedle back in to win the third and fourth sets. The Huskies’ hits found spots on the floor untouchable by the greatest players and their defense magically picked everything up.

In both sets, the Trojans showed no letup. They, too, brought balls up like magic and their hits showed Washington a wrath of USC that it had never seen before. When it appeared some of the dust had settled, it was all down to the fifth and final set.

Both teams were hurting. Both were fighting. USC had the lead as the teams switched sides of the court, but the Washington force grew. A three-point run turned the tables and put the lead into the Huskies’ hands.

But then, with a loud NwaneBOOM, the Trojans fought back to earn the first match point at 14-13 and did it again at 15-14. The Huskies saved both and got one of their own at 15-16. The Trojans attacked gallantly on their last stand, but it was Washington that prevailed and put the last ball down.

Like all great champions, USC held its head up high. The Trojans did not back down. They looked their opponents in the eye. By then, it was the midnight hour and the Huskies had used the last of their magic. There was utmost respect from both teams when players met at the net and shook hands.

The Trojans knew if they played that match 150 times, the Huskies would maybe win half of the time. These are the kinds of games Trojans love most: a chance to prove their greatness, not just to play and coast to a victory.

Though the Huskies move on to Seattle, they knew it was not the last they would see of ’ol SC. That kind of loss only adds fuel to the fire for another Trojan championship journey. So next season, be ready. Huskies beware, and to all USC fans: You better be there!

A personal note

Any great story needs some embellishment. The match we played with Washington on Saturday is one that will go down in the history books, and I think it was important to tell it right. This is a story about two teams that battled for every point and put it all on the line on every rally. Both Washington and USC played at their best. While I am understandably still caught up in the emotions of losing, it’s more important to recognize why we all love and play volleyball, despite the fact that only one team can win.

What inspired me to write this final blog entry of the season was the words of our three seniors following what can only be described as a physically and emotionally draining match.

Natalie Hagglund said, “I’m not crying because we lost. I’m crying because it’s over and playing with you guys was one of the best opportunities of my life.”

Sara Shaw expressed how much these four years and her teammates have meant to her, adding, “It’s been an honor and a privilege to play with y’all.”

Alexis Olgard said she was proud of how we all fought and proud of every single player. She then added, “I wouldn’t have changed one player on this team for a different result.”

All three of these seniors left a legacy on our program to battle to the end, and that, as Trojans, is what we always aspire to do. Thanks to all who have supported us this season, and I hope the remaining four teams in the tournament leave it all on the floor just as we did Saturday. Fight On!