Trojans attempt to bounce back against lowly Pacific

After the No. 2 BYU Cougars broke their four-game winning streak, the No. 7 USC men’s volleyball team looks to get back on track with a win against Pacific tonight at 7 p.m. in the Galen Center. USC fell to 10-6 overall and 9-6 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play after the Cougars swept the Trojans, 22-25, 16-25, 21-25.

Block party · Senior outside hitter Maddison McKibbin has totaled 16 blocks so far this season, good for an average of 0.40 blocks per set.  Benjamin Dunn | Daily Trojan

Block party · Senior outside hitter Maddison McKibbin has totaled 16 blocks so far this season, good for an average of 0.40 blocks per set. Benjamin Dunn | Daily Trojan

USC began the match with a 14-11 lead in the first set, though they couldn’t stop the Cougars’ late run and dropped the first set 22-25. The Cougars hit .519 in the second set and had a 7-0 run to hold off the Trojans and win the second set 25-16. In the third set, the Trojans managed to come back from an early deficit and tie the game at 19 apiece, though they failed to hold off the Cougars and lost the third set 21-25.

“The first and third sets were close, we were right with them and that’s what we came away with,” said head coach Bill Ferguson. “As disappointed as we were with some aspects of the match, we still had the capability of extending that match and playing better and feeling like we’re capable of playing with and beating the best teams in the country.”

Freshman outside hitter Lucas Yoder led the Trojans with 12 kills and senior opposite outside hitter Maddison McKibbin added 11. Junior setter Micah Christenson had a match-best 10 digs in the Trojans’ second loss of the season to BYU.

The Trojans are looking to bounce back against the Pacific Tigers, which based on the numbers might not be a very difficult task.

The ailing Tigers are 2-15 overall and 1-11 in MPSF play and sit in 12th place in the conference rankings, just one spot from the bottom. Only winless UC San Diego stands between the Tigers and the conference cellar. Pacific’s only wins this season have come against Cal State Northridge and UC San Diego, and they are looking to snap a six-game losing streak tonight. The Tigers have only won one set during the six-game skid, and have only taken eight out of a total 59 sets played this season. Still, the team looked slightly improved in its loss to No. 3 Long Beach State last week. The 49ers were tested in every set, pulling out a 25-15, 25-19, 25-18 victory.

The Trojans know they can’t let their guard down on defense, though, since on Jan. 24 they were upset 3-0 by the unranked Northridge team that Pacific defeated to open up its season.

“We’ve had a great week of practice working on defense and converting on high balls, so we should be able to pick it up this weekend,” freshman middle blocker Andy Benesh said.

USC will have to gear up on defense for the Tigers’ Thomas Hodges and Christian Franceschi, who average 3.15 and 2.56 kills per set, respectively. Defensive weapons for Pacific include Javier Caceres and Marco Grasso, who have combined for 218 digs so far this season.

Tonight’s match against Pacific is the first of two home conference matches this weekend for the Trojans, as they host No. 10 Stanford on Sunday at 5 p.m. in the Galen Center.

The Cardinal (10-7, 6-3) are led by Brian Cook, who averages 3.57 kills per set, and James Shaw, who averages 10.78 assists per set. Stanford comes into the match in the ninth spot in the MPSF rankings. The team will try to build off a win against Cal State Northridge last Saturday during a SoCal swing that includes a matchup with Pepperdine tomorrow night.

This weekend’s games will provide a peek at two conference opponents that the Trojans will hit the road to face again at the end of the month.

“They’re both good teams and we’re gonna try to serve the ball tough, get them out of their system and play better volleyball on our side of the net, because it really comes down to what we do,” Yoder said.

Looking  ahead, the Trojans will tangle with No. 7 UCSB next Wednesday before taking on No. 5 UCLA three days later.