The USC men’s volleyball team headed into last weekend looking to build on its decisive victory over top-ranked UC Irvine. It faced off against two other highly regarded teams, this time with mixed results.
The first match of the weekend pitted USC against No. 2 Stanford. The Cardinal came into the game riding the momentum of an undefeated season and were looking to add to their impressive resume.
The Trojans took control of the match early on with a 9-5 lead, but the resilient Cardinal quickly rallied to even the set at 14. From there, the two teams went back and forth until a decisive triple block by freshman outside hitter Alex Slaught, sophomore setter Micah Christenson and sophomore middle blocker Ben Lam gave USC the momentum it needed to finish off the Cardinal in overtime, 27-25.
The second set was less stressful for the Men of Troy, as they handily put away their rivals with a score of 25-18. Stanford surged back in the third set, taking an early lead. The Trojans shook off the slow start and quickly evened the game at 14. The set continued to go back and forth until junior opposite hitter Tanner Jansen finished off the Cardinal with a kill in overtime that gave USC the set 29-27 and the match overall.
“Everybody stepped up and did something big,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said. “Our freshmen in particular, Alex [Slaught] and Brooks [Varni], are both doing a great job right now.”
The win ended Stanford’s undefeated start and gave USC its second win in three games against ranked opponents.
However, the weekend quickly turned sour for the Trojans, who faced a tough matchup against the No. 15 Pacific Tigers on Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers, who had not beaten the Trojans in volleyball since early 2007, took advantage of a sluggish performance by USC. The Tigers set the tone early in the match, taking an 8-3 lead in the first game and never letting go. Aided by some acrobatic plays by sophomore libero Javier Caceres, Pacific took the first set 25-18.
In the second set, the Trojans looked as if they were getting the momentum back with a quick 8-2 start. Pacific soon went on a tear, though, winning 10 of the next 13 points and extinguishing the Trojans’ brief hot streak. Pacific took the lead and never relinquished, winning the second set 25-21.
The highlight of the match for the Trojans came later on, when some lineup changes sparked USC to pick up a third-set victory. With the team looking sluggish after dropping the first two sets, Ferguson decided that a swap was needed.
“[Freshman] Josh Kirchner and [junior] Chris Trefzger did an impressive job of coming in and re-energizing our team,” Ferguson said.
Their contributions in the third set allowed USC to even the score at 21. From there, the two squads traded points ending with a decisive kill by USC redshirt sophomore outside hitter Joey Booth. With that, the Trojans took the third set and seemed to be back in the match.
Despite another exciting comeback in the fourth set, USC was unable to overtake the Tigers. After coughing up a 17-12 lead, Pacific was able to hold onto their lead and take the set 27-25 along with the match 3-1.
“We weren’t as mature as we could’ve been in prepping for this,” Ferguson said. “We’re a young team but that’s no excuse. We still have to play the matches and we still have to execute and we didn’t.”
Though they were the lower-ranked team, Pacific outplayed USC in most areas of the box score. The Tigers out hit the Trojans by a mark of 25.4 percent to 18.1 percent, which was USC’s lowest mark since its season-opening loss to UC San Diego. The numbers from the service line also favored the visiting team, with Pacific’s 87.3 percent mark trumping USC’s 84.9 percent.
Despite the disappointing loss, this young team might still be able to look forward to a high ranking in the NCAA polls after knocking off the top two teams in the nation. Some rest will also likely benefit the crew: USC has nearly two weeks until their next match against Pepperdine.