Puck Swami: DU Goes Hollywood, Stuns USC in Volleyball

I have a confession to make:

Like most of us spoiled Pioneer fans, women’s volleyball is not in my top handful of DU sports to watch. I know DU Coach Tom Hogan does a great job with what he has and the team is almost always a Summit League champion (or a contender for that title), but it seems like that’s been the ceiling on the program for a while now.  Beating South Dakota may be a good volleyball feat, but doing that is probably not going to move the needle very much at University and Asbury. To get average Joe fans like me interested in watching volleyball more regularly, DU probably needs to win beyond the Summit League level and become a national level, top-25 kind of program (as many of DU’s sports already are).

And if and when that ever happens, I will look back on last night as the night where DU made a statement on the big-time Hollywood stage…

After all, this wasn’t just another Summit League road game before a couple hundred people on prairie near Fargo, N.D. or Macomb, Ill.

Oh, no…. 

This was the 10,000-seat Galen Center in Los Angeles, with DU facing six-time NCAA Champion and nationally-ranked University of Southern California Trojans in their house, in the traditional center of American volleyball, SoCal.  Yes – that Hollywood-Pride-of-the-Pac-12 USC, with the 44,000+ student enrollment, and the sunglasses-wearing Trojan Band in the house (and a DJ for good measure) seemingly whipping the season-opening Trojan crowd of thousands into a dancing froth, surrounding the Pios with their own brand of big-time school spirit.  Intimidating? You bet it was, even on the Internet.

And if that weren’t scary enough, the “Ladies of Troy” ran out of their tunnel onto the court in sleeveless uniforms with 10 women on their roster standing 6-1 or taller.  Yikes!

As a Pio fan, I was watching this scene with envious awe unfolding on the Internet, but also cringing a bit inside, just imagining how the Pios must have been feeling…  

The Pioneers were clearly rattled, and rightly so.  The Pios immediately gifted USC a couple of attack errors to start the match and staked the Lady Trojans to a 2-0 lead.  Then, SC’s giant 6-3 opposite hitter, a towering German named Emilia Weske, blasted a spike down the Pios’ throat to make it 3-0 USC,  as the Trojan crowd exploded and the building seemed to shake, even through the Internet broadcast. Ugh.

For me, this scene looked like one of those nights, when my DU team is the little bug, flying into the big, Power Five team’s proverbial windshield and you just don’t want to watch anymore… I thought I’d just suffer a bit more and wait until it was 20-0 USC before I’d turn off the game and head for bed…

But suddenly, this being volleyball – a nerve-wracking sport of runs – the USC big-time aura didn’t last forever…

And the Pios fought back.

Lydia Bartolo, DU’s Summit League Player of the Year last year, registered a kill of her own to stop the DU bleeding and quieted the USC party in the stands, followed by a blistering service ace of her own to let the Trojans know the Pioneers weren’t going away. The Pioneers suddenly shook off the intimidation and had rattled off four straight points to take a 4-3 lead on the Trojans. 

So, I decided to watch a while longer…

Bartalo’s great play seemed to inspire the rest of the Pioneers, with DU freshman Hailey Green now suddenly pumping in four more kills in that first set on her first day in a college uniform, against one of the most storied programs in the sport – wow! The Pioneers, now likely sensing that if their own freshman could have success against USC, the rest of the team should have success, too. DU started confidently scoring on USC, taking a 16-9 first set lead that clearly stunned the Trojans and their fans, who likely thought DU would be a nice cupcake for their season-opening tourney…

And when USC regrouped and clawed back hard to tie the first set at 23 points apiece, DU didn’t wither on the road, as I dreaded they might. Instead, the Pioneers went ahead and took set one for themselves, 26-24, setting the tone for the rest of the night. You could see DU coach Tom Hogan getting pumped up, and the DU team followed.

The Pios would go on to win the match three sets to two, completing Denver’s first win over a Pac-12 team since 2007, way back when Hailey Green was just a five-year-old.  This win will likely ensure that USC won’t be inviting the Pios back to L.A. anytime soon.

While this new season is very young, if the Pioneers are able to make this season a memorable one and truly become a next-level program, they will look back on last night in Los Angeles, when the Pioneers reached back and punched Hollywood straight in the mouth.

I might just have to tune in a little more often now…


Photo: USC Sports

Puck Swami is the Internet Moniker for a long-time DU Fan and Alumnus. He shares his views periodically here at LetsGoDU.

10 thoughts on “Puck Swami: DU Goes Hollywood, Stuns USC in Volleyball”

  1. Wow. Great recap & congrats to the DU players. A victory that will be treasured for a long time.

  2. Dunker pleased and somewhat surprised. Great writing and description of a truly memorable night. It’s only natural that we will have a letdown in today’s match. Hopefully our talent carries us through

  3. Being great in VB is tough. 334 D1 women’s Volleyball teams so to be ranked 25-50 would be incredible. Power 5 programs make their programs revenue positive and DU can too. DU was starting to build a fan base when COVID hit. For I long time I have argued VB can reach the level of DU gymnastics if they give the program proper support.

  4. There are about 10,000 girls under 18 playing volleyball who are registered as USA Volleyball Junior players in Colorado/Wyoming. Add in their parents and young siblings, and we’re likely talking about a market of 30,000 potential DU volleyball fans, minimum. Capture just 3% of those 30K people as DU fans and you are adding about 1,000 fans to DU games…Get to a 6% capture rate and you add 2,000 fans to the gym….

  5. We go 3-0 in Trojan Invitational. School hasn’t started yet. Girls deserve a Monday at the Beach.?

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