After exorcising their past demons with a workman-like three-set win against a No. 12 Cal State Northridge team they had not beaten in 17 matches, the No. 1 USC men’s volleyball team returns to action tonight against No. 11 Long Beach State.
Undoubtedly, the Trojans’ first conference win of the season against a team that unceremoniously knocked them out of the first round of the MPSF tournament last season should help the team’s psyche, allowing the players to move past last year’s unfulfilling postseason cameo.
“We finally got the monkey off our backs,” said senior setter Riley McKibbin. “We haven’t beaten them in eight years, and I know it was a big win for juniors, seniors and the Trojan Family.”
As the Trojans will face an opponent of similar caliber tonight, they cannot bask in this long overdue victory. In fact, Long Beach State edged out No. 3 Pepperdine in five sets to stun the Waves on Wednesday, putting the Trojans on upset alert.
Long Beach State, led by junior opposite Jim Baughman who recorded a match-high 21 kills against Pepperdine, will run its offense at a fast tempo, featuring several players with various service repertoires.
“They are going to try to run more back row stuff, and they are going to serve really well,” said coach Bill Ferguson. “We are going to have to really be on our game, and make a lot of adjustments as the match goes on.”
Ferguson did not wish to dwell too much on scouting reports, however, as he is still in the process of configuring his lineups and refining his system. A common refrain among Ferguson and players alike is that the blocking needs to improve.
“We need to continue to get better blocking the ball,” Ferguson said. “We can talk about scouting reports, but for the most part, the most important thing is us and if we’re improving.”
If the Trojans continue to serve well, they can disrupt their opponents’ offenses and force them into predictable returns. They will also need to demonstrate the same fervor for digging tough shots that they did against Cal State Northridge.
Paramount to that effort is freshman libero Henry Cassiday, who dug 13 shots in Wednesday’s game.
“I think the most notable performance was by [Cassiday],” McKibbin said. “It was his first start, and he played really well. He’s really been working on his defense, and he passed really well. That’s one of our key success factors. If we can pass the ball, then we can run a really good offense.”
First serve will be at the Galen Center at 7 p.m.