Rested Trojans welcome balanced UCSB

Spring break came early for the No. 7 USC men’s volleyball team (8-6, 6-5) these past nine days.

But through a period that most college students would revel in, whether by sipping exotic drinks, tanning by the pool or just celebrating a few days of freedom, the Trojans spent their longest break of the season in a much different fashion.

In fact, their nine-day layoff couldn’t have come at a better time. For a team that came into the season with such high expectations, these past few weeks have represented what appears to be rock bottom.

A rock bottom that comes on the heels of dropping five of its past seven matches, losing every first set over the past month and faltering at a time when most elite teams would hope to be peaking.

But for an experienced unit that knows all about the dog days of winter, a little time off from competition these past nine days was put to great use, as they used the break to regain something that has been missing for some time — their psyche.

“The mood on the team has transformed from one of arrogance and disdain to enthusiasm and support,” senior middle blocker Hunter Current said. “We are fusing all our physical and intellectual strengths to combat any potential for weakness on the court.”

So while their reprieve from the rigor of a physically draining conference schedule didn’t include any fun in the sun, a mental makeover could be just the thing the Trojans needed as they prepare to face Mountain Pacific Sports Federation foe, the No. 10 Santa Barbara Gauchos (9-8, 6-5), tonight at the Galen Center.

With the Gauchos coming to town for the 7 p.m. clash, preparation will be paramount for USC, as UCSB comes in as the hottest team in the conference, winning four straight.

The team’s recent success has been due in large part to the number of key contributors the Gauchos have been able to rely on throughout the year.

From outsider hitter Jeff Menzel (already fourth on the all-time list for kills in a career) to opposite hitter Jake Rosener (leads team in digs), the Gauchos enter tonight’s match as one of the most balanced teams in the land. Despite an embarrassing 0-4 start to their season, UCSB looks like a team poised to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

For the Trojans, the key to notching a third straight home victory over UCSB will be their poise and ability to play mistake-free volleyball. It sounds obvious, but these two factors have plagued the team throughout its current dry spell.

“There has been ample time for us to rework our mind-set, the team dynamic and attitude towards the game of volleyball,” Current said.

But tonight, as USC attempts to turn a page in its season it would rather not dwell on, the team is cognizant that the past cannot be changed, but how it competes from here on out has yet to be set in stone.

“We lost to the three of the best teams according to their record, and, while we all want to win in a conference like this, a team is not going to go undefeated or even close to it,” sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli said. “We just need to push on from here and look to the future rather than regretting the past.”