Though the USC men’s volleyball team defeated Hope International in an out-of-conference game in straight sets — 25-20, 25-22, 25-21 — the victory was hard fought.
Junior opposite hitter Maddison McKibbin — 11 kills, six digs and three blocks — and redshirt sophomore setter Chris Trefzger — two kills, 25 assists, four digs and seven blocks — led the Trojans with very strong statistical outings as the Royals hung around in each set.
“[Coming into the game], we [wanted] to get Maddison [McKibbin] back in the flow of playing a game and Trefzger some experience setting,” coach Bill Ferguson said. “When talking to a setter, it’s not just going out and playing, it’s also knowing that we’re going to give him information on a timeout how to run the offense, and he responded pretty well to stuff like that.”
Redshirt junior outside hitter Steven Mochalski contributed in a very good all-around performance, recording 10 kills, three assists, six digs and three blocks. But his true contributions on the court were invisible off the stat sheet.
“Mochalski is one of those guys that quietly does everything well,” Ferguson said. “He’s the kind of guy that gets kills when teams think they got us where they want us; Mochalski comes out with a big swing.”
The Trojans struggled to pull away in the first set until a long rally resulted in pushing the Trojans into the lead, 12 to 11. After that, the Trojans surged ahead of the Royals, leading 24-17, but needed to withstand a late mini-run before winning the first set 25-20.
The second set was much tighter throughout, as the lead never exceeded more than three points. The Trojans fell behind late in the set, 17-18. But, USC managed to come back and steal the set late, 25-22.
The third set started tumultuously for the Trojans, falling behind 4-7. But after a string of kills by McKibbin, USC took the lead 10-9 and assumed a dominant 22-15 lead. The Royals rallied late once again to push the game within four points, but the Trojans retained the lead through the set to seal the team’s seventh win of the season with a 25-21 third set.
Ferguson mentioned before the match he wanted to incorporate the young players on the team, and Cristian Rivera was one that stood out.
“[Rivera’s] a guy who had to sit out most of the fall because he was practicing twice a day” Ferguson said of his freshman outside hitter who plays for the Puerto Rican J National team. “Where most guys were getting a lot of training in the fall, Cristian was catching up. He’s a guy we expect big things from in our program in the future.”
After Thursday’s match, the Trojans will hit the road and play the University of Pacific in Stockton, Calif., on Feb. 24 followed by a game at Stanford the following day when they will resume play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
Ferguson believed that the team must develop its mental toughness traveling to Pacific, to contest the active crowd. “The crowd at Pacific isn’t very big, but it knows its volleyball and can be a big factor,” he explained.
The Trojans’ next game at the Galen Center will be on March 2 against Hawai’i.