The Toreros (23-3 overall, 15-2 WCC), ranked ninth in the nation, and the 21st-ranked Cougars (22-5, 15-2) are not strangers to this scenario. Last year, on Nov. 17, 2012, USD earned a thrilling five-set home victory to earn a share of the WCC title.
Saturday’s winner will be the outright WCC champion and will earn the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The losing team is still a shoo-in to make the postseason tournament, too, but where they’ll play is anybody’s guess.
A USD victory would notch the program’s eighth conference title since 1997 and lock in its 17th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Most importantly, though, is that a win gives USD its best chance to be one of 16 NCAA first/second-round regional sites the first week of December. The last time USD hosted a regional was 2004 when the team reached the Sweet 16.
There’s plenty to play for, not the least being that Saturday’s match will be Senior Day for four-year standouts Chloe Ferrari, C’era Oliveira, Rachel Alvey, Jane Han and Katie Hoekman along with one-year senior transfer Taylor Hollins who was previously at the University of Miami (Fla.) and has been a solid addition this year.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Hollins said. “At my previous school we didn’t have the same opportunities to be in this place in the conference. It’s exciting. Everyone is really pumped and prepared. We’ve had tough games at the beginning and I think they’ve set us up for games like this one on Saturday. We’re ready.”
For Ferrari, the reward for what in some ways has already been a memorable season — highlighted by a four-set home upset win over then No. 1 USC before an enthusiastic Torero crowd to earn a USD-best No. 2 national ranking in mid-September — is extra special.
Ferrari injured the ACL in her right knee against Pepperdine only weeks before last year’s BYU match and could only watch as her teammates earned the victory.
Ferrari is back and she’s returned to the MVP-caliber player she is despite wearing a knee brace and being under careful supervision by the coaching staff in practice and working closely with USD’s athletic trainers. Ferrari’s stellar play has netted her conference player of the month honors in September and October and player of the week award three times.
“It’s so unreal that this is set up the same way as last year with the title on the line, but I just feel so fortunate to be playing, and not just for a share, but for the outright title. Plus it’s senior night so what more could I ask for?” Ferrari said. “I try not to take anything for granted. These are literally my last few weeks of collegiate volleyball. It’s amazing to be back on the court. All of the hard work and tirelessly training this past year to be the best volleyball player I could be is paying off.”
The Toreros bring a 14-match win streak into Saturday’s tilt — they’ve won every match since Oct. 3 — and they’re hungry for more.
“The confidence these girls have, the combination of tournament experience and championship experience, bodes well for us,” USD Coach Jennifer Petrie said, specifically referring to her seniors as well as top juniors Sandra Lozic and Alaysia Brown.
“This year is a lot different than last year,” she continued. “Saturday’s match is very important and our focus is on playing well against BYU. We’re by no means looking past them. It’s a championship match and we know we need to play our best volleyball. But we’re also really excited about the (NCAA) tournament and our potential to do well there.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Admission to Saturday’s match is free for all ages and there will be giveaways, free food and an autograph session. Those planning to attend the match are asked to make a monetary donation to Catholic Relief Services to aid victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.