After two big wins against the University of Hawai’i last week, the men’s volleyball team has a chance to extend its current winning streak to four games with a matchup tonight at Cal Baptist. The Trojans have struggled to find consistency in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation — they have not won four consecutive games all season — but can assert themselves as one of the top teams in the conference with a win.
Last Thursday, the Trojans (9-5, 8-5 MPSF) took down No. 11 Hawai’i (9-6, 7-5) in four sets by a score of 25-17, 15-25, 25-14, 25-22. The following Saturday the Trojans needed three sets to defeat the Rainbow Warriors by a score of 25-22, 25-20, 25-18. After beating UC San Diego on Feb. 14, the Trojans’ winning streak matches their longest of the season. The team also won their first three games of the year.
“This is the first time we’ve swept a week since I think the beginning of the season,” senior libero Henry Cassiday said. “Every game is crucial in the MPSF, anyone can beat anyone on any given night so it’s just important to get wins.”
Junior setter Micah Christenson suggested the key for the Trojans against Hawai’i was mental more than it was physical.
“I think it was huge to be able to string together the focus that we had for two nights without any let up, because that’s where we’ve struggled in the past,” he said. “We did that for seven sets of volleyball and I’m very happy about that.”
The win had an added sentimental meaning for Cassiday, Christenson and senior outside hitter Maddison McKibbin, who are all natives of Hawai’i.
“It is particularly sweet because I grew up watching the University of Hawai’i,” Cassiday said. “I grew up idolizing those players and to come here and have an opportunity to play them is a really special deal.”
Cal Baptist (3-10, 2-9) fell to USC in four sets at the Galen Center on Jan. 29 by a score of 25-13, 25-22, 21-25, 25-21. Cal Baptist is unranked in the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association poll while USC rose from to No. 8 to No. 7 after their victories over Hawai’i.
Christenson said the biggest things the team needed to work on heading into the matchup was passing and serving.
“I think we can just clean up some little things,” Christenson said. “I think we can always improve our serving and passing. That’s becoming the determining factor of the men’s game.”
Cassiday said the key to success would be to carry the mental preparation the Trojans brought into the Hawai’i doubleheader into the trip to Cal Baptist.
“It’s always a tough place to play, heading out to Riverside,” Cassiday said. “It’s a smaller gym so we have to create our own energy. As long as we focus on our own deal, serving and passing, that’s the most important thing.”
McKibbin, Cassiday and Christenson started both of the games this weekend along with freshman outside hitter Lucas Yoder, freshman middle blocker Andy Benesh, sophomore middle blocker Tommy Leonard and redshirt senior opposite Tanner Jansen.
The team has used a wide variety of starting lineups this year, with Benesh, Cassiday Christenson, and Yoder almost always starting but a mix of young players and veterans rotating into the second outside hitter, second middle blocker and opposite position.
Head coach Bill Ferguson said that he really likes the balance of that group of seven, but said that he wouldn’t declare the starters for Cal Baptist until after practice this week.
“That’s the one great thing about this team,” Ferguson said. “We have so many guys that are so good and can deliver from so many spots and more importantly, they’ve all been team-first. They understand their roles and when it’s their time they’ll be ready — and when it’s not, they’ll be encouraging their teammates that are out on the floor. That’s the really neat thing about this team, is that they’re really together.”