Men’s volleyball tries to build on early momentum

Senior outside hitter Ryan Moss ranks second on the team early on with 4.21 points per set through three games. (Ling Luo/Daily Trojan)

The Trojans will travel to Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn. this weekend to compete in the Off the Block Grow the Game Challenge.

With 10 teams competing in this tournament, the Grow The Game Challenge will be the largest non-conference men’s college volleyball tournament this season. USC will take on Lincoln Memorial, Barton and Lindenwood.

Although all three matches this weekend are against smaller schools — both Barton and Lincoln Memorial have undergraduate populations of less than 5,000 students — the Trojans will be careful not to let size fool them.

“They’re relatively smaller schools but they’ll bring it,” senior libero Matt Douglas said.  “We’re sure of that and anytime they get a chance to play a big school they really show up and always give us their best effort, so we need to bring it as well. We’ll just bring the same intensity and prepare like we would for any conference match.”

Their first matchup against Lincoln Memorial, which holds a 3-0 record, will take place on Friday. Leading the Railsplitters on both offense and defense are junior setter Evan Cory with 45 kills and 14 digs, and sophomore setter AJ Risavy with 88 assists and 14 digs.

The weekend will continue with a match against Barton on Saturday. The Bulldogs, which hold a 0-2 record, are led offensively by freshman outside hitter Adrian Iglesias with 20 kills this season. Senior outside hitter Aleksa Brkovic and redshirt junior setter Oscar Fiorentino lead the defense, each with 11 digs this season.

The Trojans will wrap up by facing off against Lindenwood on Sunday. Redshirt sophomore opposite hitter Charley Hlavin leads the Lions on offense with 26 kills. Redshirt freshman outside hitter Diego Negrón anchors the defense, with 18 digs on the season. Senior middle blocker Connor Hipelius has contributed 11 blocks as well.

After travelling to Hawaii for three games last weekend, the Trojans will need to heavily focus on mental preparation.

“Mentally more than anything, it’s taxing,” Douglas said. “Making sure we’re ahead on academics, being proactive with teachers, getting our bodies back in shape and getting healthy.”

With victories over Concordia University and New Jersey Institute as well as a well-fought battle against No. 4 Hawaii last weekend, the Trojans the season on the right foot and brought their hard work during the off-season and preseason to light.

“I think having that first trip under our belts will be very beneficial for us,” Douglas said. “We know what we need to do as a team, how we need to prepare for matches — all that off-the-court stuff to give us the best possible outcome on the court.”

Douglas said the Trojans will enter this tournament with the confidence that they can compete with anyone.

“We’re currently unranked right now, which is a little daunting when we’re playing some of the top teams in the country, but we’ve proven that when we’re on, we’re on, and we can really compete with anyone,” he said.

Securing that positive mentality, the team works a lot with its sports psychologist, Dylan Firsick, on mindfulness, mental preparation and strength. The Trojans also actively work to turn their catchphrase of the season — “resurgence” — into reality.  

Douglas also gave credit to the team’s new strength and conditioning coach, Kurtis Shultz, for preparing them well for the season.

“We’re probably all in the best shape of our lives, and I think that’s paying huge dividends on the court,” he said.

All games will be played at the Dallas Floyd Recreation Center in Lebanon, Tenn., and will be available to stream on the Cumberland Sports Network.