After two losses last weekend at No. 1 BYU, the USC Trojans men’s volleyball team is heading on another weekend road trip featuring consecutive matches against Mountain Pacific Sports Federation members UC Irvine and UC San Diego.
The pair of tight road losses against BYU — in four and five sets respectively — has shown the No. 5 Trojans (3-2, 2-2) a clear picture of their deficiencies as well as their strengths.
“It’s very easy to walk out of Provo with our heads held high,” USC head coach Bill Ferguson said. “It’s great to know that our process is working. We’ll be good at the end of the season, but we’ll stub our toes early.”
Searching for more effective blocking and a more balanced offense, the Trojans have found the weekend schedule to be an advantage. Instead of bisecting the week with Wednesday and Friday matches, the new schedule allows them to focus practice time for both shoring up deficiencies from the previous week and preparing schematically for matches to come.
“Having the weekend matches early in the season gives us more time to practice,” Ferguson said. “It’s different than last year, but it’s working out for us.”
No. 2 UC Irvine has tremendous athleticism, depth and experience and is known especially for strength at the service line and a balanced, high-paced and precise attack.
“They don’t have one guy that carries them,” Ferguson said. “You have to be sound everywhere. We need to weather the storm at the service line from [outside hitter Jeremy] Dejno and [opposite Carson] Clark, find balance in our own offense and be sound blocking, or else they’ll expose us.”
On the defensive side, the Trojans will have to continue to have production from all three front-row blockers. If one of them lapses for even a split second, UCI has shown that it will attack those spaces with quick and precise offense.
“For a lot of teams, speed like Irvine’s is a big advantage because they just aren’t used to it,” said senior outside hitter and co-captain Tony Ciarelli. “But our offense is just as fast, if not faster, than theirs is, so the advantage is somewhat taken away.”
Clark is one of the nation’s elite players, with top-notch skills attacking, serving, blocking and defending. Ciarelli will be matched up against him.
“I need to show Carson [Clark] something different every time I go up to block,” Ciarelli said. “He’ll figure it out and take advantage of it if I don’t mix it up.”
The second match will be a mental check for the Trojans. UCSD is ranked at the bottom tier of the conference. Even though their ranking does not indicate a competitive match between the teams, Ferguson said the Trojans need to bring the same intensity and focus as they would against a top-ranked team.
“In the past, teams like that tend to give us trouble and sometimes we walk in there taking them lightly,” said senior middle blocker and co-captain Steven Shandrick. “But they’re just as important. We need to be mentally prepared. They’re going to give us their absolute best.”
First serve for both matches is at 7 p.m.