USC Splits With UCLA And LMU in Season-opener
No matter how hard she tried, no matter how many times she played USC, Sarah Sponcil just couldn’t bring herself to dislike Terese Cannon. It explains, in part, why, after the college season was over, UCLA’s court two defender paired up with USC’s court two blocker for the AVP’s final two 2018 events, in Chicago and Waikiki.
“We joked about it when we were in Chicago,” Sponcil said. “I DM’ed her and said ‘We played against each other all season last year’ and then we played and I was like ‘You’re the nicest person on this Earth, how can I hate you?’”
There was no other way that Cannon’s first day back in a USC uniform could have gone then on Wednesday afternoon against UCLA. After court one went to Tina Graudina and Abril Bustamante of USC, court three went to Trojans Alex Poletto and Haley Hallgren, and courts four and five went to UCLA’s Lindsey Sparks and Abby Van Winkle and Megan Muret and Izzy Carey, respectively, it all boiled down to court two.
Sponcil and Cannon. Again. The rivals-turned-teammates-turned-rivals.
“It always comes down to our court when it’s tied,” Sponcil said, laughing after she and partner Lily Justine beat Cannon and Sammy Slater to clinch UCLA’s 3-2 win, extending its record to 6-0.
While the finale on court two was the most pressure-filled, the extended matches on court three were nearly inarguably the most nervewracking for Trojan fans.
In the opening dual of the day, between USC and the rapidly improving Lions of LMU, USC’s court three pairing, Poletto and Hallgren, came back from down 20-17 in the first set to Bo Culo and Megan Rice, running off five straight to win 22-20. After dropping the second, 21-18, Poletto and Hallgren again found themselves down, this time 9-3 in the third.
The Trojans finished on a 14-6 run to close it out, 17-15.
“Always, always, always, have to make it interesting,” said Poletto, whose win helped USC to a 4-1 victory over LMU in the 1 p.m. match. “I’m telling you. At the Pac-12 and NCAAs, all of our matches went to three, so today it was just ‘Here it is again, we know what to do!’”
And they would do it again an hour later against UCLA’s Savvy Simo and Mac May. After controlling the first set to a smooth 21-15 win, Poletto and Hallgren dropped the second, 19-21, before coming back, yet again, in the third to win 15-12.
“We started playing together really late last year, so it was kind of thrown in there at the end of the year,” Poletto said of her partnership with Hallgren. “It’s nice to have a full off-season to develop something and work on our timing.”
Partnerships are developing this early in the season, as are programs. Just three years ago, LMU was 6-17, far from being considered a threat to challenge the West Coast powers in UCLA and USC. Had it not been for a few third-set lapses, the Lions, whose court five pair, Sara Kovac and Jessica Prichard beat USC’s Joy Dennis and Maja Kaiser, 21-19, 21-16, could very well have taken their first win over the Trojans in program history.
“It’s the closest we’ve ever been to beating them,” LMU coach John Mayer said. “We had our chances.”
The Lions have two more chances at a major upset this season, with dates against UCLA on March 26 and April 3. Between then are myriad opportunities for resume-boosting wins, with Long Beach State, Cal Poly, Stetson and TCU all upcoming on the schedule. For perhaps the first time, LMU has entered the picture as a legitimate contender to make Gulf Shores for the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s the best team by far that we’ve ever had,” Mayer said. “Last year, we had a good team but this year we’re really good. I feel confident going up against anybody. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever felt, going up against a team like USC, that we had a decent shot to win the match. It’s a good feeling. I think we’re just going to get better and we’re just getting started. I’m excited.”
USC 4, LMU 1
Court 1: USC Tina Graudina, Abril Bustamante def. LMU Reka Orsi Toth, Savannah Slattery 21-17, 21-13.
Court 2: USC Terese Cannon, Sammy Slater def. LMU Emma Doud, Megan Nash 19-21, 21-15, 15-9.
Court 3: USC Alex Poletto, Haley Hallgren def. LMU Bo Culo, Megan Rice 22-20, 18-21, 17-15.
Court 4: LMU Sara Kovac, Jessica Prichard def. Maja Kaiser, Joy Dennis 21-19, 21-16.
Court 5: USC Mollie Ebertin, Cammie Dorn def. Erin Martin, Veronica Nederend 21-18, 26-28, 15-13.
UCLA 3, USC 2
Court 1: USC Tina Graudina, Abril Bustamante def. UCLA Nicole McNamara, Megan McNamara 21-16, 21-18.
Court 2: UCLA Sarah Sponcil, Lily Justine def. USC Terese Cannon, Sammy Slater 21-18, 21-14.
Court 3: USC Alex Poletto, Haley Hallgren def. UCLA Savvy Simo, Mac May 21-19, 19-21, 15-12.
Court 4: UCLA Abby Van Winkle, Lindsey Sparks def. USC Joy Dennis, Maja Kaiser 21-17, 21-17.
Court 5: UCLA Megan Muret, Izzy Carey def. USC Cammie Dorn, Mollie Ebertin 22-20, 22-20.
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