Men’s volleyball looks for strong start to season in Hawaii

Redshirt senior outside hitter Jack Wyett led the team with 403 kills and 153 digs in 2018. (Ling Luo/Daily Trojan)

The Trojans will face their first matchups of the season this weekend in Honolulu for the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Warrior Classic. The tournament marks the beginning of men’s volleyball’s 50th season at USC.

The weekend starts with a match against Concordia (0-3, 0-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) on Thursday at 4 p.m. HST. The Trojans have dominated this series, with a 5-2 record against the Eagles. After this weekend, the Trojans will meet Concordia again in conference play.  

On Friday, the Trojans (0-0, 0-0 MPSF) face the New Jersey Institute of Technology (0-2) at 4 p.m. HST. The Trojans have not played NJIT since beating them in 2009.

They will finish on Saturday by taking on No. 4 Hawaii (0-0) at 7:30 p.m. HST. The Trojans will be looking to narrow the gap in the 44-39 series and will specifically want to avenge a 3-0 sweep at the hands of the Rainbow Warriors in last season’s Texaco Rainbow Warrior Classic.

“Hawaii’s returning a lot of the guys that they had last year and they definitely finished as one of the top teams this past year, so I think that’s going to be probably the biggest competition that we face this week,” senior co-captain Jack Wyett said.

The team is still looking for its first winning season under fourth-year coach Jeff Nygaard. After going 7-19 during his first season in 2016, the squad saw development in 2017, ending the season ranked 11th in the nation with a 14-14 record.

However, the Trojans came crashing down a season ago with a frustrating 8-20 season. The team will need to improve drastically if it wants to live up to the program’s history–the Trojans have made 14 Final Four appearances and have won four national championships since 1970, most recently in 1990.

After a 3-1 win in an exhibition match against Alberta last week, the team is hoping to channel its positive momentum into this weekend. Senior co-captain Gianluca Grasso said the Trojans are looking to continue making strides in communication and positive self-talk, which he said were strong suits in the match against Alberta.

“We prepared really well, as if it was a big competition even though it was just an exhibition game, and I think that’ll be a great catalyst for success in the early part of the season,” Wyett said.

As a young team, the Trojans have focused on creating a cohesive unit this season.

“A lot of the freshmen came in with a great mentality,” Wyett said. “It’s been great, we’ve been a lot more cohesive than we have in the past and I think that’s translated into a much more intense style of play. And I think as far as competing goes, it’s been much more higher level, so we’re going to be prepared to see a lot better competition too.”

Grasso agreed that the younger players have been a major asset to the team.

“I think that all the freshmen that came in are super talented and for sure help us in practice,” he said. “They bring in so much potential and that just raises the level of practice every day.”

When they’re not on the court this weekend, the Trojans will focus on team building as well.  

“We don’t quite have a set lineup right now so if we can just create as cohesive a unit as possible I think that’ll be the best takeaway from this weekend,” Wyett said.

Even so, the Trojans have high expectations for their performance.

“We’re going into this with a win mentality, we’re not really thinking about challenges or anything like that, we’re just going in with the mentality that we’re going to win every game,” Grasso said.

All three matches will be played in Honolulu’s Stan Sheriff Center.