Commentary

From legends to locations, battle for Los Angeles rages on

Originally Published: October 24, 2007
By Dave Reed | Special to ESPN.com

One of the great rivalries in college athletics will be renewed on Friday night, when No. 6 USC plays host to No. 9 UCLA at the Galen Center.

[+] EnlargeAndy Banachowski
Don Liebig, ASUCLA Photography Legendary coach Andy Banachowski has guided the UCLA volleyball program for four decades.

Regardless of the sport, any time the Bruins and Trojans square off, there is a level of intensity few rivalries can duplicate.

What makes the UCLA-USC rivalry in women's volleyball so special is that there are few pairs of programs located in the same major city, competing at the national level, that have had such a significant impact on the development of their sport.

The list of players who have participated in the rivalry is like the who's who of women's volleyball.

Former Bruins include Liz Masakayan, Holly McPeak, Elaine Youngs and Wiz Bachman.

The women of Troy counter with the likes of Debbie Green, April Ross, Paula Weishoff and Sue Woodstra.

USC has had 19 players earn 33 AVCA All-America certificates, while 21 Bruins have been honored a total of 37 times. UCLA has produced 12 Olympians, the Trojans 18.

Including titles won while competing in the Division of Girls' and Women's Sports and the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, each school has won six national championships.

While fans can debate which program has made the most significant contributions to the development of women's volleyball, the current players hope to make a name for themselves by contributing to the storied rivalry.

"As a player, it's definitely something you always look forward to because it's one of the best matches of the year," USC senior outside hitter Diane Copenhagen said. "We talk about how it's basically the battle of L.A. It's kind of a pride thing because everyone always asks how you did against UCLA."

That's a question Copenhagen enjoyed answering during her first two seasons at USC. The Trojans were riding an 11-match winning streak against UCLA that started during 2001 and included a victory in the 2003 national semifinals, en route to the second of back-to-back titles.

The Bruins broke the streak in four sets on Oct. 20, 2006. That victory injected some life back into the rivalry, as UCLA has gone on to win three straight matches against the Trojans, including a four-game decision on Oct. 3 at Pauley Pavilion, to extend their lead in the series to 47-41.

"Sometimes you have to get beat a little bit for the rivalry to come back," said USC coach Mick Haley, now in his sixth season with the Trojans. "We won 11 in a row and people started yawning. Now the Bruins have won three in a row, so it's getting pretty competitive again."

One cliché applied to every rivalry is, "You can throw the records out the window," and that's exactly what the Bruins would like to do after losing four of their last five matches. UCLA will enter Friday's match with a 16-6 record (6-5 Pac-10).

[+] EnlargeDiane Copenhagen
USC AthleticsDiane Copenhagen and USC are hoping to stop the Trojans' slide against the Bruins.

"All of the Pac-10 matches are really tough," UCLA junior libero Jade Machado said. "But when you're playing against USC, everyone gets more fired up. You want it for bragging rights. The win over USC is always a little sweeter."

Machado, and her younger sister, Jazmin, are two players who are well aware of the rivalry with USC. Their father, Ed, played volleyball for UCLA from 1968-71 and won national championships in 1970 and 71.

When Jade arrived on campus, she was handed uniform No. 15. That happened to be the same number her father wore, but it was a complete coincidence. Now she hopes to do something else her father did: win national championships during her final two seasons.

"There is such a legacy here that you always want to keep the tradition going and contribute to the success of UCLA volleyball," she said. "We went to the Final Four last year and everyone was pretty disappointed when we lost to Nebraska. It would be nice to have another chance to go and compete for that."

Pac-10 programs have won 13 of 26 NCAA championships since the organization began sponsoring women's volleyball in 1981, a clear indication of the strength of the conference. While both teams are almost certainly assured a spot in the postseason field, they also know concentrating on their rivalry is a luxury neither can afford.

"It's not like you can look ahead three weeks and build up to that with some lesser matches along the way," said Andy Banachowski, now in his 41st season on the UCLA bench. "There are no lesser matches in the Pac-10, and if you think so, you end up getting an L instead of a W."

Banachowski, the first Division I women's coach to record 1,000 career victories, is one constant in the rivalry, along with the Bruins' home court, Pauley Pavilion. During his tenure, he has matched strategies with USC's Chuck Erbe, Lisa Love and Haley -- some of the top volleyball minds the game has ever seen.

Pauley Pavilion is home to more NCAA volleyball champions than any court in the country. The UCLA men's volleyball team has won 19 titles and the women have won three. That is why competing on the famous court can be so memorable.

"UCLA used to host this big tournament and I remember going to Pauley Pavilion and just being awed by playing there," said Woodstra, a member USC national championship teams in 1976 and '77. "It was pretty amazing. And of course, we won."

USC's facilities also have played an important role in the rivalry. The women of Troy enjoyed a significant home-court advantage with matches played at North Gym and Lyon Center. With capacity crowds of around 600 and 2,000, respectively, the spirited fans were literally on top of the court and often had an impact on what happened during a match.

"Some of my fondest memories were from playing over in the North Gym when it supposedly held only 600 people," Banachowski said. "The bands are in there and when you called a timeout, you were just screaming at the team the whole time just to be heard. I'm glad we're not playing there any more, but they are certainly great memories."

[+] EnlargeUCLA Students
Don Liebig, ASUCLA Photography Fans of both schools understand the importance of the rivalry.

Bachman, who graduated from UCLA in 2001 and has played with the U.S. national team and professionally in Italy, has very similar memories of the North Gym.

"It made the rivalry feel even more intense because of the surroundings and being in that small, enclosed area," she said. "It was a more difficult environment to play in because of the fans and the hecklers. But because of the rivalry, it helped us fire up and play with more energy than playing in another city on the road."

A new era for the rivalry will begin Friday, when UCLA makes its first appearance at the Galen Center. While USC's new facility won't be as intimate and intimidating as the North Gym or Lyon Center, it will allow more fans to experience the best rivalry in women's volleyball.

It also gives USC the perfect opportunity to showcase the program's past while looking for even greater success in the future.

"We're going to start some of our own traditions," said Haley, whose next victory will be No. 700 of his career. "We need to start taking a little bit more time to talk about the rivalry, explain it, and have our former players come in."

Haley plans to feature former players, the program's accomplishments and the UCLA rivalry in the USC locker room, but nothing builds tradition like winning. And since moving to the Galen Center, the Trojans have won 20 of 21 matches, including last week's victories over then-No. 9 California and then-No. 3 Stanford.

"We played two amazing matches against two of the top teams in the country," USC sophomore setter Taylor Carico said. "It was the best we've played against teams of that caliber. UCLA is going to be just as tough of a match as those two."

Dave Reed has covered college volleyball for national publications since 1996.