Trojans look to shake off rust at home

If games were won and lost on paper, the madness that ensues in March would likely disappear into oblivion.

And while the No. 7 USC men’s volleyball team’s 6 p.m. match against the Grand Canyon Antelopes lacks the flair and unpredictability of another collegiate sport this time of year, the concept of not overlooking an opponent still applies — even if that opponent hails from a Division II school.

Unpredictable · USC coach Bill Ferguson has seen his team go from No. 1 in the nation to hovering near .500 over the course of the season. - Gage Allard | Daily Trojan

For the Trojans (10-9, 8-8), tonight’s match with GCU (14-19) couldn’t come at a better time. While the month began with optimism and renewal, the team has fallen on hard times. As most of the university’s students took the last week off for spring break, it seems USC’s most recent performances reflected a similar mental and physical hiatus.

The Trojans traveled to Provo, Utah last week to face the No. 4 Brigham Young University Cougars, and despite early season success on the road, the team’s trip proved to be neither business nor pleasure. They dropped two matches in rather disappointing fashion (3-1, 3-0) and tied their season-high losing streak of three matches.

As for Grand Canyon, this season hasn’t exactly panned out the way the team had hoped. After a disastrous first season at the helm of the ’Lopes, in which he saw his team go 4-25, Chad Speer created a schedule that he hoped would challenge his players. This season, GCU has taken road trips to play several Division I schools, including Ball State, Pacific, Ohio State and Pepperdine. And while the team has yet to win more than one set in any of those matches, a trip out to Southern California this week to face UCLA on Wednesday and USC on Thursday is all part of Speer’s plan to instill confidence in a program still looking to make a name for itself in Division II athletics.

Aiding the Antelopes in their rebuilding process are two emerging stars, outside hitter Brock Hutchins and setter Brad Moore, who the  team will rely on if they hope to make a dent on this upcoming road trip. Hutchins, a converted beach volleyball star, leads the team in kills (502). Moore, a local from Orange, Calif., enters tonight’s match with 57 kills and 200 digs on the season.

For USC, the task at hand seems highly manageable: End a three-game losing streak against arguably the least experienced opponent it has faced all season. And with a schedule that included the likes of UC Irvine, BYU, Hawai’i and Cal State Northridge, who could blame the team if it chooses to overlook the Antelopes.

Nevertheless, the Trojans have not been shy about letting people know that they have not even begun to assume a “W” will be etched beside tonight’s match. If this championship-starved team has learned anything in the midst of a highly rigorous schedule, it’s that a sense of entitlement ceases to exist once the whistle is blown.

“The match is just as important as any other,” junior outside hitter Tri Bourne said. “We have prepared for GCU the same way we prepare for all the other teams. Every game is just as important as the next at this point in the season.”