The playoff chances for the USC men’s volleyball team were already slim before heading to Utah to face top-ranked BYU. Unfortunately, the team’s odds took another hit on Saturday, as the Trojan’s accuracy issues cost them once again in a one-sided defeat at the hands of the Cougars by a score of 25-14, 25-15, 26-24.
With only five games remaining in the regular season, USC (5-15) faced its toughest challenge of the season in Provo, Utah. The BYU Cougars have been among the most dominant teams in the country this season, amassing an impressive 19-3 record.
Led by All-American Taylor Sander, BYU is currently riding a 11-game winning streak that has earned the team a unanimous No. 1 national ranking. The Cougars’ high-powered offense, which leads the nation in hitting percentage, boasts victories over every team in the MPSF, including a win over USC earlier this season at the Galen Center.
The Trojans’ appeared able to keep pace with the Cougars at the start of the first set. Despite a few service errors early on, the USC managed to keep the game close. But after a kill from freshman middle blocker Josh Kirchner brought USC within two, the Cougars took control.
BYU went on a run, winning 12 of the next 15 points and overwhelming the Trojans with a 25-14 set victory. The attack was led by sophomore outside hitter Josue Rivera, whose three aces put the set out of reach for USC.
Aided by a sizable home crowd, the Cougars were able to ride the momentum from their earlier run to a quick four-point lead in the second set. This time, the Trojans were overwhelmed from the start and were unable to slow down BYU’s high-powered attack.
“I think we got carried away with the crowd,” USC head coach Bill Ferguson said. “Not so much distracted, but I think we had a lot of guys who had yet to play in an environment like that. There were over 4,000 people there, and it was their senior night.”
However, the third set had a completely different atmosphere. After a quick break, USC came out of the locker room ready to play and quickly found itself with an early lead. While the Cougars continued to play aggressively, the Trojans successfully held them off for much of the set, pulling ahead by as many as three points. But, with the score even at 22 apiece, BYU pushed through and took their first lead of the set. Unfortunately, that was all the Cougars needed to put the Trojans away for good.
“As frustrating as the season has been, our guys have never backed down and they’ve always fought,” Ferguson said. “That goes for every day in practices and that goes for matches like this.”
BYU’s Sander came alive in the third set, tallying eight of his 17 kills. The junior outside hitter enjoyed an exceptional night on the court with a .762 hitting percentage and three blocks. USC freshman outside hitter Alex Slaught managed to put together a solid night as well, notching 8 kills and a .462 hitting percentage, but his play was overshadowed by Sander’s.
“[Sander] is the most gifted player in college volleyball, period,” Ferguson said. “You’re talking about a guy who can elevate and out-jump everybody. He’s basically a freak.”
While BYU certainly flexed their muscles offensively in this match, it was the errant play of the Trojans, once again, that virtually dictated the outcome. USC was outplayed in nearly every statistical category and managed only three aces on the night.
The loss puts the Trojans at the brink of elimination, as they now sit four games out of the last playoff spot with only four games left to play. USC will return to the Galen Center to play Long Beach State on Thursday, April 4 at 7 p.m.