This past Saturday, the unranked USC Trojans competed against No. 3 UCLA at home and upset the Bruins with a five-set victory. After falling in the first set 18-25, the Men of Troy won the next two sets, both 25-23. UCLA then claimed the fourth set 19-25, to which USC responded by rallying and claiming victory over the match with a 15-11 fifth set. It was head coach Jeff Nygaard’s first victory over his alma mater after serving in his position for three years.
It was the Trojans’ Senior Night, honoring opposite hitter Jon Rivera, setter Gert Lisha, middle blocker Connor Inlow and outside hitter Jack Wyett. Rivera recorded one kill and three digs. Lisha ran the offense with a stellar performance, boasting 50 assists by the end of the night. Lisha also showed up defensively with 11 digs. Inlow had one kill while Wyett put up 18 kills, eight digs and one ace.
Junior outside hitter Gianluca Grasso attributed some of the Trojans’ success to the atmosphere of the night.
“I think that being Senior Night, the last home game of the season, and a big rivalry against UCLA, we had a really good week of practice,” Grasso said. “We were super focused going in.”
Grasso also thought the Trojans’ mental game was a strong point in their performance.
“We were positive the whole time as opposed to after a bad play or call from the refs we reacted negatively towards the game,” Grasso said. “Also what was different was the effort and the discipline. We knew it was an important game for us to win and everyone was 100 percent.”
In addition to the seniors, Grasso was a big factor in the win. He had 20 kills, the most of the team, with a .441 hitting percentage. Grasso also added two aces and two digs. Freshman middle blocker Sam Lewis put up 10 kills and a .471 hitting percentage, adding five blocks. Junior outside hitter Ryan Moss also contributed nine kills and 12 digs, a solid defensive performance. Freshman libero Cole Paxson was focused on the serve receive game with an impressive .962 reception percentage, only recording one reception error in five sets.
As a team, the Men of Troy followed Paxson and did not waver on serve receives. Grasso followed closely with a .958 reception percentage, and Wyett similarly with .929.
The Trojans had an in-depth game plan that they executed very well, leading to success on the court. Their game plan consisted of attacking certain passers on serve receive and a blocking recipe that was detailed for each hitter.
“We were aggravating them early,” Lisha said. “They made adjustments during the game and this was the first game where we were able to make adjustments back to them. It was like a chess match, I would say. We were disciplined throughout the whole game and didn’t try to play outside of our comfort levels.”
As for the Bruins, their offense was led by senior opposite hitter Christian Hessenauer who put up 22 kills with a .500 hitting percentage. Senior outside hitter Jake Arnitz contributed with 13 kills, while sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah and junior outside hitter Dylan Missry each had 10 kills. Junior setter Micah Ma’a ran the offense with 54 total assists.
Arnitz passed 28 serve receive balls throughout the entire match without recording an error, boasting a rare 1.000 reception percentage. Senior outside hitter JT Hatch also recorded 28 passes with a .903 reception percentage, resulting in an impressive serve receive performance on both sides of the net. Defensively, Missry led the Bruins with 12 digs, followed by Hatch with nine and Arnitz with seven.
After struggling all season to pull out wins, the Trojans are hoping that this upset will give them momentum to finish out their season strong and clean up their current 3-7 record in league play. They will travel to take on No. 13 Grand Canyon on Friday, followed by No. 14 Concordia on Saturday.