The men’s volleyball team split a home-and-away series to No. 15 Cal Baptist University after falling at the Galen Center Saturday night in five games (25-20, 20-25, 19-25, 25-17, 12-15).
The match was the second of the pivotal series this week that could decide the postseason fate of both teams, but with the loss, the Trojans (4-14, 4-12 MPSF) dropped further behind Hawai’i for the eighth and final spot in the MPSF tournament.
The Trojans initially built off their momentum from Thursday night’s road sweep. They started the first game on a 7-3 run and never looked back, hitting .370 and adding 2.5 blocks.
“We caught them off-guard with a different lineup,” head coach Jeff Nygaard said.
Namely, USC had a younger lineup headlined by freshman outside hitter Woody Cook, who ended the match with 14 kills and a .370 hitting percentage.
“If you told me we were going to lose with an outside hitting .370, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Nygaard said.
Nevertheless, that was the case as the Trojans offense sputtered in games two and three. The second game had a different feel as the Trojans hitting regressed to .103. Errors crippled the offense. Cal Baptist’s hitting was ice cold at times, too, and the game was tied 19-19 after an emphatic solo block from junior outside hitter Lucas Yoder. The Trojans scored only one more point, however, before the Lancers heated up to win game two on a 5-0 run.
Cal Baptist (9-12, 4-12 MPSF) distributed attacking between five starters, with star senior outside hitter Rocky DeLyon struggling. Junior middle blocker Jackson Burge carried his team through offensive lulls at time by maintaining an errorless .462 through the first three games. His effort helped the Lancers outhit the Trojans by .183 points in game two and .86 in game three. Even as both teams’ hitting was hot and cold, there was no shortage of blocking. The Lancers tallied 10 through three games, including three solo blocks from junior middle blocker Kevin Vaz. USC added 7.5, already approaching their season average of eight per match.
The blocking kept USC off-balance in game three. The Trojans led 11-9 before allowing a 11-2 run. Nygaard made a couple of subs during that stretch, exchanging sophomore Jon Rivera for freshman Ryan Moss, senior Alex Slaught for Yoder and third senior Tommy Leonard for senior Josh Kirchner. USC went on a 3-1 run with the new lineup but still lost the game by six points.
“Even though we started off really good against them, they made adjustments that took us out of our comfort zone,” Nygaard said. “When we did respond, we responded with fury in game four and played a great game.”
Facing a loss that could effectively kill their chance for a MPSF tournament bid, the Trojans’ dominated game four which started with an ace that sparked a 14-4 USC run. Nygaard’s subs paid off as the three of them combined for eight kills and zero errors during that opening run. After that, USC coasted to a 25-17 win.
For the fifth time this season, USC saw a fifth game at the Galen Center. The Trojans split the first four 2-2 but could not finish it off.
Cal Baptist led 8-7 when the teams switched sides. The Lancers were hitting .875 in the game, but the Trojans’ errorless .500 was not too shabby either. Tied at ten apiece, Cal Baptist went on a 2-0 mini run capped with a powerful Enrique de Diego Garcia and Roy Powell block that forced Nygaard to call a timeout. Out of the timeout, USC scored a couple more points before falling 15-12.
“In game five, we made just one or two errors and they played flawlessly,” Nygaard said. “It’s tough when you allow a team to get to five and they play a perfect game. There’s not much you can do.”
Still, according to Slaught, this was a game the Trojans should have won.
“That’s a team we expect to beat, and we believe this [loss] is on us,” Slaught said. “We just didn’t execute on our side of the net.”
This loss might spell the end of the Trojans’ postseason hopes, pending improbable turnaround.
USC next plays Concordia on March 16 at the Galen Center.