USC’s football team was not the only one who battled it out with Penn State at the beginning of the new year. The men’s volleyball team travelled to Columbus, Ohio for the Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge and took on the Nittany Lions.
Unlike the Rose Bowl matchup last week, however, the Trojans fell to Penn State on Saturday, suffering a narrow five-set defeat.
From the start of the game, the battle was set to be a long and tough one, as the teams went on to tie 20 times throughout the first set. It took a kill and a Penn State hitting error to clinch USC’s win at 32-30, ending the back-and-forth set. Senior outside hitter Lucas Yoder led the charge with 10 of his career-high 33 kills in the first set alone.
The Trojans’ momentum would not continue into the second set though as they struggled with both serving and hitting errors. The Lions were able capitalize on the mistakes, and they surged ahead and finished the set quickly without the same back-and-forth required in the first.
But whatever head coach Jeff Nygaard said to the team in the locker room worked, because the Trojans returned to the court for the third set looking like the team that had started the game.
It began much like the first, with neither team pulling away with the lead, battling for each and every point. It was Penn State that struggled with hitting errors this time, however, which allowed USC to pull ahead and ultimately win the set.
The Trojans were ahead 2-1 and only needed one more set to win it all. Though junior setter Gert Lisha set excellently throughout the match, leading to his total of 57 assists, and Yoder provided strength on the outside, Penn State still rallied back from being down early to take the set, 25-23. This forced a fifth frame that would leave the Trojans with a defeat.
In the end, Penn State had more digs, blocks and service aces than the Trojans. This was seen most clearly in the final set, where the Trojans never regained the lead after the first point. This was due to the Lions’ redshirt freshmen Calvin Mende, who notched 25 kills and five blocks on the game, and senior Chris Nugent’s 22 kills.
USC showed its ability to be aggressive and make the plays that were needed, but not the consistency that would have led it to victory. However, with the increasing strength of freshmen opposite hitter Aaron Strange and Yoder’s unwavering power, the Trojans look to build on the positives in the coming weeks.
The men’s volleyball team looks to move to 2-2 as it takes on Long Beach State at the Galen Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m.