Three-game win streak not in cards for Trojans
With the score tied 12-12 in the first set, reigning Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Week Joshua Walker went to his knees in search of a missing contact.
Three minutes later, as Hawaiâiâs opposite hitter finally arose to Johnny Nashâs 1972 hit âI Can See Clearly Nowâ blaring on the arena sound system, the No. 7 USC menâs volleyball team and the Galen Center crowd erupted in a throng of laughter. Unfortunately, for the Trojan faithful it would be Walker and his No. 5 Hawaiâi Warriorsâ team that would get the last laugh Tuesday night.
In a match that saw constant bantering from both sides, two injury timeouts and action more befitting of a NCAA tournament environment, the Warriors (12-7, 8-6) defeated USC (10-7, 8-6) in four sets, much to the dismay of the 200 plus fans in attendance.
Hawaiâi regained its step after dropping Monday nightâs match to the Trojans, in large part because of the 180-second hiatus caused by the missing lens. When play resumed, the Warriors, behind eight kills from Walker took the first set 32-30 and never looked back.
âWe are conscious of our failures in the first set, but maybe it is just too big of an elephant in the room right now,â USC coach Bill Ferguson said. âIf we knew exactly what the problem was, trust me it would have been gone by now.â
In the winning effort, Hawaiâi was led by 6-foot-9 opposite hitter Jonas Umlauftâs impressive 25 kills and Walker, a notorious Trojan-killer, who chipped in with 22 kills.
While the match marks the teamâs second win in three showdowns with the Trojans this season, the victory was hanging in the balance after the Trojans rebounded to take the second set, 30-27, with eight kills by sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli and a team set hitting percentage of .235.
But in a night of few silver linings, the Warriors took advantage of every mistake made by USC. In the third set, Hawaiâi quickly got out in front of the Trojans, 6-1, and capitalized on several service and attack errors down the stretch to take the set with relative ease.
The fourth set looked promising for the Trojans, as a block and kill by junior middle blocker Austin Zahn gave the team an early 13-9 cushion. But in similar fashion to its play in the month of February, USC folded when the match got close.
Using three straight errors and a block by Umlauft, the Warriors took a late 27-26 lead they wouldnât relinquish en route to a 30-27 victory.
âUSC has been our new rival the past few years, and we know when we play them itâs going to be a battle,â Warriorsâ outside hitter Joshua Walker said. âYou know if you can beat a team like [USC], you have a very good team.â
For the Trojans, their bid for a three-game win streak was denied, but in defeat, optimism and improvement were the main messages Ferguson took away from the nightâs match.
âThe offense continues to improve and our attackers are getting better and better each match,â Ferguson said. âI like the new alignment we have in there with [freshman] Maddison McKibbin starting at opposite. Right now itâs all little things.â