USC gets double dose of Cougars away from home

The No. 7 USC men’s volleyball team will travel to Utah this spring break, as it visits No. 4 Brigham Young University for back-to-back games March 19 and 20.

The Trojans (10-7, 8-6) have the same record as the Cougars. Both are tied for fifth with Hawai’i in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, but they are only two games behind conference leader Stanford.

This will be the second set of back-to-back games against the same opponent for USC. The Trojans split a pair against No. 8 Hawai’i at the Galen Center earlier this week.

After enduring a stretch from late January to early March when they lost five out of seven games, the Trojans have won two of the last three and look to be regaining the form they had when they were the No. 1 team in the country earlier this season.

The Trojans have improved their passing and blocking since that losing streak but are still struggling in the first set of each match. The team has lost nine out of its last 10 first sets and recognizes that it needs to come out with more energy to avoid putting itself in that quick 1-0 hole.

“This is our trend. We need to figure that out because it’s a problem. But once we figure it out we should do OK,” junior setter Riley McKibbin said after the Hawai’i game Tuesday.

The break will give the Trojans some much needed time to string multiple practices together. They were limited in fall practices because of three players who participated in the U.S. Junior National team and the world championships in late August, and two other players were injured.

Combined with the fact that many of the Trojans’ games earlier in the season were on Wednesdays and Fridays, USC did not have a lot of time to work on areas that need improvement.

BYU will play two games in the Long Beach State Active Ankle Tournament against No. 9 Penn State and St. Francis before heading home to face the Trojans.

Coming into the Long Beach tournament, the Cougars have won three of their last six games and are the top blocking team in the MPSF, averaging 3.27 per game. That is .33 more blocks per game than the second-place team.