Trojans sweep the Gauchos in three sets

Whatever problem UC Santa Barbara had proven to be recently to the No. 2 USC men’s volleyball team was dealt with swiftly Wednesday night at Galen Center as the Trojans (5-3, 4-3) dispatched of Gauchos (2-6, 0-4) in three sets, 25-16, 25-14, 25-21.

Last season, the Gauchos eliminated USC from both the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs and the NCAA tournament. But after UCSB graduated six of seven starters from last year’s national runner-up squad, the Trojans were faced with a much different Gaucho attack Wednesday. The opportunity for some payback, however, did motivate some of the Trojans heading into Wednesday.

“We didn’t talk about [it as a team], but I know our guys had said something about it earlier this week,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said.

Senior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli helped to make sure USC didn’t fall three times in a row to the Gauchos  by finishing with 11 kills on a .400 hitting percentage and two service aces.

Despite holding just one full practice this week before Wednesday’s contest because of a tightly packed conference schedule, the Trojans came out firing early. Ciarelli and redshirt sophomore opposite hitter Taylor Jansen each recorded four kills in the first frame, as UCSB never threatened after keeping it close in the early part of the set despite a visibly energetic Gaucho attack.

“They caused a little trouble for us, especially on the right side and that opened up their offense a little bit,” Ferguson said.

UCSB middle blocker Dylan Davis, who Ferguson had keyed earlier in the week, was held mostly in check on the night, finishing with a -.076 hitting percentage.

Seemingly at ease following a more back-and-forth first set, Jensen and redshirt junior outside hitter Jeff Carlson combined for six kills in the second set to pace USC as the Trojans easily took the set.

UCSB outside hitter Blaine Nielsen tried to keep the Gauchos in the second set, recording two key blocks in a set where UCSB recorded just seven points as a result of their own attack.

The Gauchos continued to fight late in the set, as a long rally with UCSB down 11 sent both teams scrambling around Galen Center, but as most of the rallies in the set did, USC came away with the point, clinching the set three points later.

The third set proved the toughest battle between the squads on the night, as Ferguson called two timeouts late in the frame that seemed to momentarily put USC back on track, but the Gauchos continued to hang around.

“I told the guys before the third set, the toughest thing for you guys to do is going to be for you to maintain [the] high level of play,” Ferguson said.

The Trojans will hit the court Friday as they welcome UCLA to the Galen Center. The Bruins (10-1, 5-0) dropped their first set in more than seven matches Wednesday night to Pepperdine, but will come into the meeting on an eight-game winning streak.

First serve is set for 7 p.m.