Riding a five-game winning streak, the men’s volleyball team looks to keep its momentum going against crosstown rival UCLA on Wednesday. After the No. 6 Bruins defeated the Trojans in Westwood during the two teams’ last meeting in January, the No. 12 Trojans look to defend their home court and use the energy of the rivalry to their advantage.
“It is not a question of not being emotive … because they are getting inundated with the feedback of the rivalry, which takes on a life of its own,” head coach Jeff Nygaard said. “It is a question of what you do with that emotion. You never know what it is going to be until you play, but I like to believe that we are playing good volleyball and that it’s not an accident. These guys are really focused on what we need to be doing.”
In USC’s last match against Concordia, sophomore outside hitter Gianluca Grasso led the Trojans to a victory in three sets with 20 kills. In the third set alone, USC was hitting .379 to Concordia’s .087. Despite the Trojans finishing the game with more hitting errors, they did so getting more touches on the ball and more chances to make a play.
In that same sense, the Trojans will continue to focus on how they are performing first, and hope to let UCLA make mistakes.
“How do we handle our side of the net?” Nygaard said. “Stay in a moment, stay focused [and] keep our composure, yet be competitive and handle whatever they dish out with serves.”
The team is not just looking for a rivalry victory, though. USC is looking to clinch a spot in the postseason, and winning the final four matches of the regular season would put the Trojans at 9-9 in conference play. This would give them a solid chance at making the MPSF Tournament. This game is just the first of the many steps for the team to achieve its postseason aspirations, but it is one that will be lively, as Trojan fans will look to drown out the traveling UCLA contingent at the Galen Center.
“It is undeniable that there is going to be a great environment, but that is what the playoffs and this time of the season is anyway,” Nygaard said. “I am excited for [the match], but do I look at that as the end-all, be-all? No. I love the rivalry, but that’s not the hallmark of what we are trying to do.”
While USC’s goal over these next four games is to put itself in playoff position, the Trojans will face a stiff challenge to extend their five-game winning streak, as the Bruins enter Wednesday with a five-game winning streak of their own. But Nygaard dismissed the role of momentum, especially in a heated rivalry matchup.
“I love five-game winning streaks, but you know what I like more? Six-game winning streaks,” Nygaard said. “Do I think that’s the major factor in this? Not really. I think these are two teams who know that they’ve been successful. That’s just what makes this a special night.”
First serve between the Trojans and Bruins on Wednesday is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Galen Center.