The USC men’s volleyball team closed its four-game homestand against UC Santa Barbara on Thursday night at the Galen Center. After the deflating loss to UCLA on Monday, the Trojans were desperately seeking a home victory, this time against a struggling Gaucho squad.
In the end, though, USC lost to UCSB in four sets (16-25, 28-30, 25-21, 21-25).
Ranked No. 13 in the preseason, UCSB’s woes heading into Thursday’s match overshadowed even the Trojans’. Despite wins over Cal State Northridge and UC San Diego, the Gauchos possessed a meager 5-11 record and were winless on the road. Though the Trojans entered the match with an equally unimpressive record (3-8), the return of libero Henry Cassiday and outside hitter Joey Booth made USC a much more imposing team.
UCSB quickly jumped ahead in the first set, riding a wave of solid hitting to a 9-3 lead. However, thanks to a quick timeout and some words of encouragement from sophomore captain Micah Christenson, the Trojans began to improve. Freshman Josh Kirchner led the attack after the break, contributing to three consecutive points and putting USC back in the game.
Unfortunately, the Trojans were unable to sustain their high level of play and fell behind once again, this time for good. The Gauchos took the set by a wide margin of 25-16.
The Trojans had a different look at the start of the second set. Aided by a number of Gaucho mistakes, as well as some acrobatic play from Cassiday, USC was able to keep pace with UCSB. The two teams continued to go back and forth, with the Trojans unable to gain any advantages.
However, the intensity of the match took on a new level after UCSB took a 24-22 lead. The Trojans went on an impressive run, fighting off six set points before finally yielding to the Gauchos, 30-28.
“The first two sets weren’t good enough, and again, we didn’t slow them down enough at the net,” USC head coach Bill Ferguson said. “We’re just not getting any stops and we’re putting the right game plan out there. It’s just a little breakdown here, a lack of discipline there. It’s just a lot of little things that we have to get worked out.”
The second set might not have gone in the Trojans favor, but they certainly took some momentum into the next set. Though the two teams battled back and forth, USC was in control and overcame the Gauchos 25-21.
The energy continued into the fourth set, as the Trojans jumped out to a 6-1 lead, but this time they could not sustain it. The Gauchos fought back to even the game at 11 and eventually took control of the set thanks to some strong play from senior Dylan Davis. With a comfortable lead in hand, UCSB put away the Trojans 25-21 and took the match in four sets.
With the loss, USC drops to 3-10 on the season and now has to turn things around on the road if it hopes to stay in the playoff hunt.
“We need to turn around and get something going,” Ferguson said. “We don’t know how. We are going to stay the course, but we just have to ratchet up the intensity every day in practice and keep coaching up the guys.”
The Trojans will have a sizable break before they head north to Stockton to face the Pacific Tigers on March 2. The Tigers defeated USC on Jan. 20 by a score of 3-1.
The Trojans have 13 regular season games remaining and will play the next four contests on the road, including a trip to Hawai’i to take on the Warriors on March 8 and March 10.