Following a narrow defeat against Penn State, the USC men’s volleyball team looks to take all the positive aspects from their game and build on them in order to be victorious at home against Long Beach State on Wednesday.
“We did things at a level that we could win,” head coach Jeff Nygaard said. “Next to add to that is a little bit more flow and transition, a little better route, a little smarter swing and a little bit more physicality or intelligence.”
The Trojans will have to find a response for Long Beach State’s sophomore outside hitter TJ DeFalco, who leads his team with 37 kills in three shutout victories.
While teams in other sports can rely on the advantage of containing a player with a double-team, the net prevents that type of defense in volleyball. Because of this, the goal becomes less of stopping DeFalco from performing, but rather responding to his performance on the Trojans’ side of the net.
“He is just going to do some things that are going to be great because he is that caliber of a player,” Nygaard said. “But if we can consistently put a good, strong block and defense in front of him, not allow him to get little chip shots out or tips and we maximize every single opportunity, then we will put the pressure back on them to perform.”
With senior Lucas Yoder’s career high 33 kills against Penn State — which almost outpace DeFalco’s total for the season — his power at the outside hitter position will be key in helping the Trojans to a victory for both this game and for the rest of the season.
“He played at a level that was, for what I think of his ability, at the standard,” Nygaard said. “I think that is what he is capable of on a consistent basis.”
As the 49ers are currently 3-0, it will take a team effort in order to finish each set strong. At practice, Nygaard focused on making sure that his players were more focused on reinforcing their system than their opponents’ ranking or record.
“My belief system is that if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, they can play the best match of their lives and we still should be able to take of it,” Nygaard said. “It is a tough match-up, that is no question. They play a real good style of volleyball, but I happen to believe that if we are taking care of our stuff on our side of the net we should have a good outcome.”
Even with the graduation of four seniors at the end of last season, the team has continued to evolve in Nygaard’s second year as head coach. The addition of eight freshmen also ensures that this progress does not stop at the end of the season when more seniors graduate.
“I am extremely proud of the work we are putting in,” Nygaard said. “I am getting some guys who are becoming workhorses for USC.”