USC looks for momentum against UCSB

The USC men’s volleyball team has a final chance to atone for its struggles on its current homestand, as it takes on UC Santa Barbara at the Galen Center on Thursday.

Pushing back · Sophomore Ben Lam (above) and the Trojans have 14 regular season games remaining after a disappointing start to the season. - Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

Pushing back · Sophomore Ben Lam (above) and the Trojans have 14 regular season games remaining after a disappointing start to the season. — Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

The match marks the fourth home game in eight days for the Trojans. The homestand started on a positive note, as the Trojans beat Cal Baptist to notch their third win, but back-to-back losses at the hands of Brigham Young University and UCLA dropped USC to a 3-7 record overall in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation competition.

“We always talk about a process, and part of that is having a higher level of intensity when we begin the match,” USC head coach Bill Ferguson said. “We tend to start slow, and I think part of it is that we have so many young guys who maybe weren’t part of the last four years of our success.”

Though the Trojans do not lack talent, inexperience has been a constant issue for Ferguson, whose club has already exceeded the number of losses from last year’s championship-finalist squad. Still, Ferguson maintains that his team is both highly regarded and competitive each night.

“The success that we’ve had over the last four years has come against most of the teams in the league,” Ferguson said. “Not only do teams normally get up to play USC, but there’s always a little bit extra behind what everybody brings to the table when they come to our gym or we go to theirs.”

The Trojans fended off Cal Baptist in four sets Thursday on the strength of a dominant offensive performance. Redshirt junior opposite Tanner Jansen, arguably the team’s most steady contributor, led the way with 14 kills and seven digs, while sophomore middle blocker Robert Feathers (12 kills) and redshirt freshman outside hitter Austin Rysyk (11) also hit double figures.

While the Trojans were able to put away the Lancers despite being outhit and outblocked, the team failed to see similar success against two premier MPSF opponents this weekend. After falling 3-1 to BYU on Saturday, the Trojans were swept 3-0 Monday (25-18, 25-21, 25-17) to crosstown rival UCLA. Though the Bruins recorded a better hitting percentage (.522 to .338) and more blocks (6.5 to 4.0), they also notched seven service aces, while USC failed to record one.

“We do a good job of executing our game plan, but we need to improve our blocking and digging,” Ferguson said. “We were doing very well defensively and not so well offensively [last week], but in the last few matches it’s been flipped.”

A victory Thursday will be crucial before the Trojans embark on a four-game road trip spanning nine days.

“From an age and experience standpoint, our team makeup is younger, and I don’t mean to say that as an excuse,” Ferguson said. “Most of our older leadership hasn’t been on the floor. We’re getting it back, and we played [sophomore] Joey Booth and [junior] Henry Cassiday Monday. That will settle things down, because the inexperience has been the major difference for us.”

After hosting UCSB Thursday, the Trojans will have an extended break before visiting Pacific on March 2 to kick off the road trip.