The Trojans celebrated senior night at the Galen Center on Saturday as the USC men’s volleyball team prepared for its final home match of the season. While the team is characterized by its youth, seniors J.B. Green and Chris Trefzger were honored with a special ceremony before the game.
It was an auspicious start to the night, as both players were in USC’s starting lineup and helped guide the team to an upset sweep over No. 10 Cal State Northridge.
Saturday’s match followed a disappointing performance on Thursday against Long Beach State. Ranked No. 2 in the nation, Long Beach State (21-7) outplayed the Trojans (6-16) in nearly every way and swept the match 25-17, 25-17, 25-17.
Sophomore outside hitter Joey Booth led the Trojans with 10 kills but the rest of the team was badly outserved. Though there was not much hope before, the loss officially knocked the Trojans out of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoff picture.
“We kept our focus really narrow and understood that if we took care of our problems in the here-and-now each week then the playoffs were going to become realistic,” USC head coach Bill Ferguson said. “But that just wasn’t going to be the case for us, and we weren’t able to get the ship in the right direction early enough.”
Still, it was the Trojans who found themselves playing the role of the spoiler on Saturday night. The Matadors entered the match with only a slim lead over Hawai’i for the last playoff spot.
Though CSUN started off the season with a number of impressive wins, including an early victory over the Trojans, it has tapered off as of late, winning only one of its last seven matches. Motivated to win for the sake of the seniors, the Trojans were ready to take advantage of the Matadors’ recent woes.
The first set of the match was well-fought by both sides. In fact, the two teams were tied at 17 different points and the lead changed hands seven times.
Luckily, sophomore opposite hitter Cristian Rivera was there to take control of the match for USC. His 10 kills in the first set allowed the Trojans to pull away in the end and take the set 25-23.
“Cristian [Rivera] did a good job watching video this week and understanding where the openings in the block were going to be,” Ferguson said. “We’ve been working with him on getting out of situations where he was being too conservative, and I think that boded well for his performance.”
The next set was much more lopsided as the Trojans rode their momentum to an early 8-3 advantage. While CSUN was able to pull within two a few times, USC held the lead for good. This time, USC followed the lead of Booth, who put up seven of his 13 kills in the second set. With his help, the Trojans won 25-17 and took a 2-0 advantage going into the third set.
Once again, USC jumped ahead at the start of the third set and CSUN failed to keep up. With Booth at the service line, the Trojans strung together four straight points, giving them a comfortable lead and putting their opponents just out of reach. With his match-high 18th kill, Rivera finished off the Matadors and clinched the senior-night sweep for USC 25-23, 25-22, 25-19.
It might not have counted toward the playoffs, but it was still a meaningful victory for the Trojans.
“You could see the guys in the locker room perk up a bit when we told them that Chris [Trefzger] and J.B. [Green] were going to start the match,” Ferguson said. “It was great to see their teammates respond and play hard for them and I think they both had phenomenal nights.”
The sweep was USC’s first since it defeated Stanford at home on Jan. 18 and moves USC to 6-16 on the season. Though they were outblocked by Cal State, the Trojans had a great night statistically that was highlighted by their impressive .418 hitting percentage.
USC will play its final two games of the season this week with a Wednesday night match at UC Santa Barbara followed by the rivalry matchup at UCLA on Friday.