The USC men’s volleyball team lost to No. 4 BYU in Provo on Thursday night in its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoff game.
Coming off a remarkable upset against No. 3-seeded Pepperdine, the No. 6 Trojans hoped to use their momentum to take on the overall top-seeded Cougars, who earned a quarterfinal bye last weekend.
Before the game, head coach Jeff Nygaard spoke about the different dynamics of postseason play.
“Regardless of what happens in the regular season, once you get to the playoffs, everybody’s at the same level, at the same footing,” Nygaard said.
BYU did not take USC lightly and reminded everyone why they are the favorite to take home the championship. With a 21-6 record on the season (10-2 in conference), BYU had already defeated the Men of Troy twice this season, both times 3-1.
In addition, the Cougars demonstrated an ability to close out games against fellow ranked foes, such as Grand Canyon University, Lewis University, UC Santa Barbara and Ohio State, all of whom defeated USC. Conversely, USC’s predominantly underclassmen squad consistently showed great flashes of potential by hanging tight with teams for half or most the game before being unable to close sets in the final points. That proved to be the case once again against the Cougars; USC was tied 12-12 in both the first and second set, and even led 21-20 in the third set, before eventually losing all three by margins of 25-17, 25-17 and 25-22.
For the Trojans, star redshirt junior outside hitter Jack Wyett went out in his final game with a relatively average 10 kills. His fellow junior outside hitters Gianluca Grasso and Ryan Moss were also held below their usual production; Grasso finished with nine kills, three aces and two blocks, while Moss had seven kills and two blocks. Freshman middle blocker Sam Lewis, who is expected to be one of the bona fide leaders next season, finished with four kills and two blocks.
BYU won with a collective effort throughout the night. Senior outside hitter Brenden Sander had 12 kills, while freshman opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez had 12 kills. Sophomore outside Cyrus Fa’alogo also chipped in 12 kills. As a team, USC was significantly outhit .529 to .205, out-digged 24 to 13 and out-aced six to three.
Overall, it was a bittersweet season for the Trojans to say the least. After starting the year off in the top 15, the Trojans stayed in it for the first half of the season, but failed to collect a win against another ranked team.
With only four departing players and many young players, the Trojans seemed to find joy in trusting the process and believing the results would come with time.
At times, they were able to see the payoff at times, most notably their big-time Senior Night win versus crosstown rival UCLA, as well as their quarterfinal upset against Pepperdine.
Though their season is over, the team redefined its idea of success relative to what they had going for them, and in doing so, set the stage for even greater things in the coming years.
While USC will look largely the same on paper next year, fans can expect a completely different product on the court with a year of experience together under their belts and fresh motivation to prove the next phase in their collective growth.