The USC men’s volleyball team embarks on a crucial early season road swing Friday, attempting to improve on its 2-2 start to the season.
The Trojans will square off against Pepperdine in Malibu on Friday night, kicking off a three-game slate that will also see them face Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State in the span of a week.
After a season-opening loss to UC San Diego, the Trojans rebounded with huge wins over UC Irvine and Stanford but suffered a 3-1 setback at the hands of Pacific on Sunday at the Galen Center.
With 10 days and ample practice time in between matches, USC head coach Bill Ferguson emphasized the need to pay attention to detail.
“We’ve mainly been focusing on things on our side of the net,” Ferguson said. “We’re a really talented group, but we have a lot of practical inexperience, so we’re trying to get everybody used to the discipline that it takes to essentially win a championship.”
After consecutive sweeps of Irvine and Stanford, the Trojans struggled considerably to develop a rhythm against the Tigers, attacking at a percentage of just .180. Moreover, Pacific edged USC in blocks (16.5 to 12.5), digs (46 to 39), and aces (4 to 1). Sophomore outside hitter Cristian Rivera led Troy with 12 kills off the bench, while junior opposite Tanner Jansen registered five blocks to go along with nine kills. Freshman outside hitter Alex Slaught notched eight kills and sophomore setter Micah Christenson led the defensive effort with 12 digs.
“We’ve been focusing in practice on trying to execute our game plan,” Jansen said. “We’ve been trying to focus on taking away things they [Pepperdine] like to do, and matching it with things that we like to do.”
Citing previous examples, Ferguson particularly stressed the importance of discipline over talent.
“If you look at teams [in] the past couple of years that have had success, and if you look at the difference between the 11th team and the 12th team, the 12th team wasn’t necessarily as talented as the 11th team, but they were far more disciplined,” Ferguson said. “So we’re trying to bridge the talent gaps with the departure of four guys that played first division volleyball.”
Replicating the team’s 2012 championship run will be a newfound challenge for the Trojans, who have tried to adjust following the departures of outside hitter Tony Ciarelli — the 2012 national player of the year -— and All-American middle blocker Steven Shandrick. The departures, combined with the heavy presence of underclassmen, have forced Ferguson to make constant tweaks to the lineup.
“The things that jump off the page are service errors and attacking errors, so we need to improve those areas,” Ferguson said. “At the outside position, we’re looking at Rivera and [redshirt freshman] Austin Rysyk to take another step up after making great strides in the fall. I also want to see a higher level of consistency out of Jansen. He started poorly against Pacific, but when we put him in later he did very well. If we can get a higher level of consistency, then that’s great.”
For his part, Jansen noted the significance of each game in a long season.
“I think we can’t look past any of the games,” Jansen said. “For some of the big games, we come in ready to go, but for some of the smaller games, we have a tendency to overlook them. So, we need to focus on treating each game equally.”