Entering Monday’s showdown with crosstown rival UCLA, the USC men’s volleyball team was hoping to put its past woes behind it. Instead, the night proved only to add to the team’s frustration. This match, which marked the Trojan’s third in five days, would leave the Trojans in disappointment once again as the Bruins overpowered them, 25-18, 25-21, 25-17.
USC (3-7) entered Monday night’s game coming off a tough contest against top-ranked BYU on Saturday night. The Trojans were upended by the Cougars (9-3) in four sets, unable to capitalize on the momentum of their victory over Cal Baptist on Thursday. Though disappointing, the match featured impressive performances from junior opposite Tanner Jansen and sophomore setter Micah Christenson. The production of these two helped USC stay competitive against a tough BYU squad.
UCLA (10-8), led by junior outside hitter Gonzalo Quiroga, proved to be another difficult challenge for the Trojans. Owners of the fifth-best hitting percentage in the nation, the Bruins took advantage of some strong attacks, as well as some Trojan errors, to jump to an early 7-2 lead. Though the Trojans were able to settle down, the strong blocking from UCLA made it nearly impossible to chip away at the lead. The Bruins took the first set easily, 25-18.
UCLA jumped out to a quick lead once again in the second set, thanks largely to the many service errors made by the Trojans. But this time, USC was able to bounce back and, thanks to some key kills from Jansen, evened the game at 15. From there, the two teams traded points until UCLA pulled away once again. With two powerful kills at the end, the Bruins took the set, 25-21.
Neither team was able to gain an early advantage in the third set. Though the Bruins’ strong attack won them a number of points, the Trojans earned many back from UCLA’s serving mistakes. Eventually, the clutch play of Quiroga allowed the Bruins to pull ahead 12-7. The Trojans did their best not to fall behind but, as was the story of the night, they were unable to close in on their cross-town rivals. UCLA finished off the set 25-17 and took the match.
“The serving and passing is what made the difference,“ USC head coach Bill Ferguson said. “We couldn’t get them into trouble. Our players that usually put guys in trouble at the service line didn’t have any success doing that and their offense was in rhythm all night.”
Though the Trojans hit a respectable .338 in this match, their poor serving would be their undoing. Christenson, who has had six aces in each of the previous two matches, was not nearly as effective against the Bruins, and the rest of the team combined for 12 service errors.
However, USC still had reason to celebrate Monday night, as they saw the return of junior All-American libero Henry Cassiday. Cassiday, who was sidelined as a result of his off-season hip surgery, got his first action of the season on Monday night, marking the Trojan’s return to full strength.
“Henry wasn’t his best, but it was great to have him out there,” Ferguson said. “It was good to have his experience and level of understanding, that helped settle us down quite a bit.”
The Trojans dropped to 3-7 with the loss and finish off their homestand with a match against UC Santa Barbara at the Galen Center on Thursday at 7 p.m.