Men’s volleyball to prepares for season with fall tournament

Sophomore Billy Fauntleroy sets to bump a ball in practice. He made the Fab 50 as a high school senior. (Daily Trojan file photo)

The men’s volleyball team will have its work cut out as it begins the 2018-19 campaign with this weekend’s USC Fall Tournament at Galen Center.

Play begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and continues until 4 p.m.

Though the games don’t count toward the team’s record, USC obviously still wants to perform at a high level. This will be difficult, however, since four of its seven potential opponents were ranked in the top 15 to end last season, including No. 1 Long Beach State and No. 2 UCLA.

Eighth-ranked Pepperdine rounds out the top-10 participants, followed by No. 12 UC Santa Barbara and No. 13 Concordia Irvine. The Trojans will have easier matchups with Stanford, UC San Diego and Cal State Northridge.

Unlike most of its competitors, USC struggled last season, posting an 8-20 record and a 3-7 mark in conference play. Perhaps playing this tournament at home will be advantageous; the Trojans were 4-6 at Galen Center a season ago, but much better than their 2-11 road record.

However, there is reason to be optimistic with this team, which returns its top-four leaders in kills, digs and assists. The team most notably includes redshirt senior outside hitter Jack Wyett, the team’s leader in kills and digs as well as the second-leading blocker.

Wyett is crucial to every area of the game for the Trojans — he ranked in the team’s top five in the five major statistical categories — and will have to put his experience to great use as a team leader.

Another key returning piece is sophomore middle blocker Sam Lewis, who is coming off a summer captaining the United States’ Junior National Team to fourth place in the NORCECA under-21 tournament.

Lewis will be integral to the USC defense this season, as he easily led the Trojans in blocks last year with 87, and will impact the offense as one of the team’s top servers.

The team will have to replace last season’s assist leader in setter Gert Lisha. Head coach Jeff Nygaard will look to sophomore setter Chris Hall, who was second on the team in assists, to fill in the role.

Nygaard is entering his fourth season as the Trojans’ head coach, with a 29-53 career record. After the Trojans went 7-19 in his inaugural season, they showed promise with a 14-14 record in 2017.

There are a few storylines to look out for this weekend. USC upset Pepperdine in the first round of last season’s MPSF Tournament before falling to top-seeded BYU in the next game. The Trojans also defeated UCLA in their final match of last year in a five-set epic on senior night.

However, that was the extent of USC’s success against the teams participating in this tournament. The Trojans went 4-8 against the teams involved, including a 2-0 record against Stanford. The games don’t really matter, but at the very least, the games will serve as a litmus test for the Trojans’ upcoming season.

The Trojans’ first regular season matchup is scheduled for Jan. 4 against Alberta.