- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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The USC women's volleyball team practiced like it was any other day and not potentially their last. The players held off the nerves that were building as the time for the NCAA selection show grew near. As soon as practice was over, they headed to the locker room to learn their fate.
At 15-15, with six losses in their past six matches in the brutally tough Pac-12, they were most definitely on the NCAA bubble. And when "USC" showed up on the screen, it was both a relief and a clean slate for the Women of Troy.
"When we heard our name, we knew it was another opportunity," said junior outside hitter and All-Pac-12 selection Samantha Bricio. "And we can't wait for it."
The Women of Troy have traveled across the country to North Carolina to begin a new chapter in their season, opening the NCAA tournament Friday against Coastal Carolina (4:30 ET, ESPN3). They are putting their 10th-place finish in the Pac-12 behind them and looking forward to the program's 24th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
"We have gone through a lot of things," USC coach Mick Haley said. "More than any team I've coached has ever had to go through. A lot of strange things have happened. Yet we have remained a really tight team."
Injuries and illness have pushed a young USC team -- including 11 underclassmen -- to juggle its lineup in myriad ways throughout the season and forced freshmen into big roles quickly in the nation's most unforgiving conference.