The men’s volleyball team lost in four sets (25-16, 25-20, 25-27, 25-16) to arch-rival No.4 UCLA Saturday night at the Galen Center.
The Trojans (3-13, 3-11 MPSF), who have dropped both matches to the Bruins (15-3, 11-3 MPSF) this season, got off to a slow start, failing to take the lead until midway through an exciting third set that saw 12 ties and four lead changes. Defensively, USC struggled, recording only three blocks, all of which came in the third and fourth sets.
UCLA took advantage early with a balanced attack. The team started the match hitting over .700 and continued to distribute kills evenly between sophomore outside hitter JT Hatch — who led the team with 13 — and five other players who scored at least 7.
“We were in that [competitive] mindset,” head coach Jeff Nygaard said. “Everyone gets up for USC-UCLA. [The question is] who can keep that mindset up and be in the moment to recognize, to analyze, and to execute? Did we do that consistently? Obviously not.”
UCLA hit over .400 in games they won — the first, second and fourth — and .386 for the match. USC had no answer for the Bruins’ middle blockers. Sophomore Oliver Martin and junior Mitch Stahl combined for 14 kills, zero errors and a .737 hitting percentage.
“UCLA was able to do what they wanted to consistently,” Nygaard said. “They stepped up their game and challenged right from the gate. It was hard to play catch-up.”
Meanwhile USC’s offense sputtered from the get-go. The Trojans hit just .154 in the first set and .148 in the second. Through two sets, only junior outside hitter Lucas Yoder and senior outside hitter Alex Slaught had positive hitting percentages.
Yoder’s performance was one bright spot for the Trojans. He recorded 17 kills and hit .516. That said, Yoder was not impressed by his individual performance.
“We lost,” he said, “I don’t care [about my numbers].”
The Trojans finally looked energized in the third set. Down 16-11, USC sparked a 7-2 run to tie the match at 18. Yoder notched 4 kills in that span continuing his best performance of the season. Another 5-2 run brought the Trojans to double-set point, but they failed to convert both and then fell behind 25-24. After scathing off match point, the Men of Troy came back to take the set 27-25 with an emphatic block by senior opposite Josh Kirchner.
“In the first two games, we served terribly,” Yoder said. “In the third game, we gave ourselves a chance by serving aggressively and keeping our serves in play. That gives us the best opportunity to win.”
However, USC’s momentum did not carry over into set four as the Bruins jumped out to a 12-5 lead. The two teams traded points the rest of the way until UCLA closed it out 25-16.
“The loss was disheartening,” Yoder said. “We weren’t giving ourselves chances at the service line. We made a lot of errors. It’s tough losing like this. I don’t think anyone’s used to it or anyone likes it, but that’s what gives us that desire, that burn to work harder and improve.”
Up next, the Trojans have a home-and-home with Cal Baptist that starts with a road match Thursday.