For the men’s volleyball team, winning has not been an easy task, as USC fell to 1-2 in conference play after a tough loss to UCSB in five sets on Wednesday. Friday’s game against UCLA will be seemingly more difficult, not only because it will be a rivalry game but also because the Bruins are currently ranked No. 2 with the highest hitting percentage in the league.
“If how we came in against Long Beach was any sign, I expect us to come in completely engaged and ready to fight, and then it is going to be a good match for us,” head coach Jeff Nygaard said.
Of the members on the team, senior outside hitter Lucas Yoder is at the forefront of that offensive attack. He has maintained above a .300 total attacking percentage and is leading his team in both points and kills. While he has continued playing at this level, there is always the question of whether he can keep it going for the rest of the season.
“It is going to get tougher and tougher to do it,” Nygaard said. “Once teams scout and make a game plan against him, it just ramps up the pressure of blocks and assignments and decisions. I still think he can hold himself to a high level.”
Yoder will be put to the test against the Bruins, who are also ranked fourth in average blocks per set. UCLA’s rankings and high statistics could be intimidating, but Nygaard’s philosophy has not wavered.
“I said this at the beginning of the year that if you take care of your side of the net, the other side isn’t nearly as important,” Nygaard said. “We have to make sure that our side of the net is operating at a high level. We’ve shown that we are capable of it.”
Even with the Crosstown Cup points on the line, Nygaard uses his experience as a player both on the collegiate and Olympic level to coach his players on losing the crowd and the rivalries and just focus on volleyball.
“Every team deserves the same attention, every team deserves the same respect, every team deserves the exact same amount of effort and preparation and physical preparation,” Nygaard said. “There is no easy team for us to beat. The one constant in the whole thing is that there is a rectangle on the ground and there is a ball and there is a net. Nothing else matters.”