The Trojans traveled to Honolulu over the weekend, kicking off their 50th season with two victories and one loss at the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Warrior Classic.
Because it was the first tournament of the season, the Trojans focused on team building. Senior libero Matt Douglas said the weekend was an opportunity for upperclassmen to teach their younger teammates “how to conduct business on and off the court.”
Beyond that, the Trojans spent a lot of time in the week leading up to the tournament scouting their opponents and preparing accordingly. When it came time to execute, coaches emphasized that the team’s effort would pay off.
“We worked extremely hard all off-season and all preseason, so they let us know that we were ready to go, we deserved to be out there and to give it all we have,” Douglas said.
The tournament began on Thursday with a 3-0 victory over the Concordia University Eagles. Redshirt senior captain Jack Wyett and senior captain Gianluca Grasso led the offense with 15 and 10 kills, respectively. Senior outside hitter Ryan Moss and redshirt sophomore setter Matt Faraimo contributed eight and seven kills, respectively.
The Trojans maintained strong leads in each of the three sets against the Eagles with scores of 25-14, 25-18, 25-14. USC will see Concordia again later in the season in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference play.
The momentum continued on Friday as the Trojans defeated the New Jersey Institute Highlanders 3-1 in a 25-17, 24-26, 25-23, 25-15 match. Moss led the offense with 15 kills and contributed significantly on defense with eight digs and four blocks. Sophomore setter Chris Hall and sophomore libero Cole Paxson each had nine digs of their own.
Despite wins on Thursday and Friday, USC fell to No. 4 Hawaii on Saturday in a 12-25, 23-25, 16-25 match. Junior opposite Rado Parapunov and senior outside hitter/opposite Stijn Van Tilburg led the Warriors with 16 and 15 kills, respectively.
Despite the loss, Douglas said he thought the team did well facing a hostile crowd.
“I thought we did a good job sticking together in a foreign environment with not many fans rooting for us,” he said. “We had to really galvanize, make sure we were there for each other and be engaged the whole time.”
Grasso led the Trojan offense with 10 kills and two aces, while Douglas led the defense with 11 digs. USC put up a strong fight throughout the match and managed to pick up a 10-9 lead in the second set. The Warriors pulled ahead again before the Trojans narrowed the margin back to 23-22, but ultimately let it slip to a 25-23 set.
“When you’re in an environment like that with thousands of people, you can get the jitters a little bit, and that was our first real test of the year,” Douglas said. “They were really good. I don’t think we were able to match their level of execution, but it was the first tournament of the season, and we have a long way to go.”
The Trojans are now 2-1 for the season. They will travel to Lebanon, Tenn., this weekend to compete in the Off The Block Grow the Game Challenge. On Friday, they take on Lincoln Memorial at 5 p.m. PST. On Saturday, they will face Barton at 2:30 p.m. PST. On Sunday, they play Lindenwood at 2:30 p.m. PST. All games will be available to stream on the Cumberland Sports Network.