Alicia Ogoms headed down to California with modest expectations, and she ended up blowing them out of the water.
The 18-year-old middle blocker from Rivergrove didn’t make it a priority to crack the starting lineup for the University of Southern California women’s volleyball team. She thought she would learn about the college game for a while, and then hopefully earn more playing time.
But by the time the Trojans were playing in their final pre-season tournament, coach Mick Haley told Ogoms she would be starting.
"I was kind of surprised," said the 6-foot-5 graduate of St. Mary’s Academy. "My goal was more to learn during the first part of the season and then hopefully start by the end of the year when it really counted. It was cool that the coaches trusted me enough."
The transition from the Manitoba high school and club volleyball scene to the pinnacle of U.S. college athletics started with a two-week training camp that Ogoms called "the hardest thing I’ve ever done."
Players were on the court for a pair of two-hour practices every day that left them tired and sore as they tried to recover for the next day’s onslaught.
"The first couple of days I was a little bit shaky," Ogoms said, "but after that I got used to it, and showed that I could compete at that level."
In hindsight, Ogoms believes the intense camp was the best thing for her, as it forced her to adapt to the higher level of play quickly. She managed to increase her vertical leap 2 1/2 inches during the season, to a stratospheric 10-foot-5.
"The more you play with some of those players, the better you’ll be," she said.
Despite it being a something of a rebuilding year, the Trojans qualified for the 64-team NCAA tournament and made it all the way to the Elite 8 before losing to the University of Texas.
Ogoms was given an honourable mention for the Pac-12 Conference’s all-freshman team.
She’s already looking forward to seeing how the team, which will lose only three seniors, improves in the next couple years.
"Our goal is always to get to the very end," she said of the USC program, one of the best in the NCAA. "It was good that in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year we were able to compete and make it that far."
With no volleyball to worry about until the spring season, Ogoms now turns her full focus to another transition: from high school to university academics.
"I’m really liking university," she said. "It’s a lot of fun so far. It’s a different kind of experience. I took a harder biology class, and my goal at the beginning of the year was to get A’s. But halfway through I just wanted to get through the first semester."