On Saturday night, men’s volleyball ended its road trip with a visit up Highway 1 to Pepperdine. In their first match of the year in late January, the Trojans upset the No. 8 Waves at the Galen Center 3-2. Two months later, they were looking for similar magic on the road to keep their postseason hopes alive.
The now-No. 6 Waves fought off the Trojan onslaught to win in straight sets (31-29, 25-22, 25-23) and tie the season series at one apiece. The Waves improved to 12-7 overall and 11-7 in the MPSF and secured a MPSF Tourney bid over the weekend. They currently sit in fifth place in the MPSF, three games behind No. 4 Long Beach State and one ahead of No. 7 UC Santa Barbara.
On Saturday, Pepperdine was playing to secure that fifth seed in the MPSF while 10th-place USC (4-14, 6-16 MPSF) was fighting toward that elusive eighth seed. Hence, both teams played all-in from the first point.
The first set was gut-wrenching through all 62 points. USC took its largest lead at 21-17, and Pepperdine took its only 2-point lead to win 31-29. There were eight lead changes and 26 ties. Pepperdine took the set by winning 3 points in a row off USC errors — the only 3-point run in the game.
Errors continued to be a problem for the Trojans. They suffered 18 errors from the service line and nailed only two aces. Their attacking came together nicely, though. As a team, they hit .356. Junior outside hitter Lucas Yoder hit .500 with 19 kills. Senior middle blocker Tommy Leonard, who did not play in Thursday’s match at Stanford, hit .714 with 5 kills plus an ace and a block.
Pepperdine was sharp offensively, too. The Waves hit .381 and served five aces. Redshirt senior opposite Matt Tarantino hit .462 with 15 kills and 3 aces. The Waves only tallied four blocks as redshirt senior middle blocker Tommy Carmody had a quiet night, but USC only tallied 6.5.
After USC fell behind 14-9, head coach Jeff Nygaard took a timeout, and whatever he said worked. The Trojans 9-5 run after the timeout brought their deficit to just one point. However, a service error by senior middle blocker Tommy Leonard backed up by an ace from Pepperdine’s Matt Tarantino put the set out of USC’s reach.
In set three, the two teams came out nose-to-nose once again. Finally, USC broke the game open with a 3-0 run to take an 18-14 lead. They traded points with the Waves until they had a 23-20 lead, and the set looked to be theirs. However, Pepperdine ended the match on a 5-0 run which included two Tarantino kills and three USC attack errors.
It was an abrupt end to an intense match that went the way of the favorites. In the box score, this one will go down as a three-setter with no big surprises, but the match felt a lot closer.
USC has four matches left this season. Next up, their final two home games will be against UC San Diego on April 2 and UC Irvine on April 3.