Look out for USD.
The University of San Diego Toreros (a Torero, by the way, is a bullfighter) took some of the country’s best programs by the horns in pre-season play. They shocked Stanford in five at Stanford to start the season. Although losing to Wisconsin (3-0) and Minnesota (3-1), they rebounded by defeating Texas A&M (3-0), Colorado (3-0), UC Irvine (3-0), and handed then-ranked-7th UCLA their first loss of the season (3-1).
They were a not-so-grateful host at their USD/SDSU Invitational this past weekend, running the table versus Long Beach State (3-1), Cal State Fullerton (3-0), and UC Santa Barbara (3-0).
USD (8-2) was No. 2 in last week’s VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major Poll, also ranked 10th in the AVCA Division I coaches’ poll, only the third time in program history that it has cracked the top 10.
Head coach Jennifer Petrie is in her 15th year. Her team opens West Coast play on Tuesday when San Francisco visits Jenny Craig Pavilion.
“I’m proud of the way that we’ve performed up to this point. We’ve been challenged by a really tough schedule, but it’s really nice to see them perform so well right out of the gate,” Petrie said.
“I think when we put this schedule together we knew it was going to be very challenging, and we wanted to see how we responded to adversity early on so we’ll be ready for our conference season as well as post-season.”
USD is in the West Coast Conference, which also has national-power BYU and a few other teams making an impact on the national scene, including Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara and Portland.
The roster is balanced. Four different players have led in kills this year and it’s commonplace for three or more players to hit double figures in kills. Their primary offensive weapons are senior Lisa Kramer, an outside from Encinitas; Lauren Schad, a senior middle from Rapid City, S.D.; Canadian freshman Thana Fayad, an outside from Victoria, B.C.; and sophomore Lauren Fuller, an outside from Clarendon Hills, Ill., near Chicago (Fuller played at Hinsdale Central, the same school as Ally Davis, the Michigan player featured here at VBM last week).
The rest of the starters include senior libero Hunter Jennings, from Costa Mesa; sophomore Addie Picha, a middle from Puyallup, Wash.; junior Kaity Edwards, a middle from Playa Del Rey; and another Canadian in junior opposite Jayden Kennedy, who is from Oshawa, Ontario.
“We have a lot of attackers that can terminate for us”, said Petrie. “It keeps us unpredictable, and it’s nice to see a lot players stepping up on the team right now.”
USD runs a 6-2 around junior Kristen Gengenbacher, a product of Quincy, Ill., and Spanish freshman Anna Newsome, who is from Barcelona.
“I think it’s about making your teammates better any way you can,” Gengenbacher said. “It has a lot more to do with your relationship with them off the court than on the court. You end up finding out the little things that you can say to them during the game, or during a practice, that will help us utilize them better, and make them the best version of themselves.
“That is something that I know Anna and I have really been working on this year, is getting to know our hitters better and just trying to make every teammate better at any point in the game.”
Petrie is glad it’s working.
“They’re meshing pretty quickly,” Petrie said. “We do have some players that are pretty new, in addition to the setters, we’re adding some outside hitters, and we’re able to run a new 6-2 offense. It’s keeping us really well balanced.”
Last year the team finished 22-10 after sweeping Northern Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before getting swept by USC.
“We have some pretty high goals and aspiration this year.,” Petrie said. “We want to go far in the tournament, we want to be able to host the first and second rounds. Being one of the top 16 seeds in the country is a big goal for us, and I think we’ve done a lot to help prove our case.”
Kramer, averaging a lofty 4.52 kills per set, thinks this year’s team is ready.
“This is just a really competitive team. We’re also better friends off the court as well, we’re a really close group of friends,” she said. “It really helps to know each other off the court, rather than being separate players on the court. We’re definitely playing for each other, not just for ourselves. That’s a really special thing to have, and having the chemistry on the court also.”
Gengenbacher chimed in: “Amen,” she said. “Amen to that.”