The USC Men’s volleyball team will host No. 15 UC Santa Barbara on Thursday evening.
USC is coming off a tough loss last Saturday night to No. 13 Grand Canyon University. In a close 2-3 match, the Trojans played with more effort and sense of urgency, with every match being decided by five or fewer points, but still could not close the deal. Not only was it GCU’s first ever victory over USC, but it was also their first win as a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
Redshirt senior middle blocker Ashton King led the way with 17 kills, nine blocks and six digs while hitting .583. Senior outside hitter Shalev Saada also recorded double-digit kills (13) along with two digs and three blocks. True freshman outside hitter Trevor Weary played in his third game of the season and responded with five kills, five digs and seven blocks.
For the Trojans, the junior outside trio of Ryan Moss, Gianluca Grasso and Jack Wyett carried the team as per usual. Moss had 16 kills and 14 digs, while Grasso also had 16 kills and served five aces. Wyett had a relatively tame game by his standards with just nine kills and three blocks. Freshman middle blocker Kyle Gear had the strongest game of his career with five kills and 10 blocks.
Looking forward, UC Santa Barbara is hoping to start the month off strong after an average 2-2 month of February. Their last game was a well-deserved 3-2 win over UC San Diego. Sophomore middle blocker Keenan Sanders put up 21 kills and a career high nine digs in a match that saw the Gauchos as a team hit .419. Sophomore libero Grady Yould enjoyed his fifth double-digit performance of the season while also tying his career high of 18 scoops. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Hooper chipped in with seven kills and five blocks. The two teams will meet for a rematch following UCSB’s matchup with USC.
With about 40 percent of the season remaining, the Trojans now find themselves with an extremely disappointing 4-12 record.
Head coach Jeff Nygaard, however, does not seem too discouraged. “The focus for us is the same thing as it’s been the whole time,” Nygaard said. “Which is to become the best team that we can. We’re buying into exactly the process and we’re starting to see internally quite a few of the changes that we want to see with the cultural change.”
The Trojans have quite a youthful team, with 12 out of 19 of their players being underclassman. “Even with the record we have, I see a bunch of young men are still learning and shining with some of the pride that they have knowing full well they’re getting better on a day to day basis … with a developmental mindstep,” Nygaard said.
He also praised his upperclassman for their leadership. “Getting into the comfort zone of saying what needs to be said when it needs to be said,” he said. On the Gauchos, Nygaard added, “They’re intelligent with a high IQ. We have to master our side of the net … and take care of the ball.”
It will be interesting to see if USC’s development continues with a much-needed victory come Thursday evening.