After a rivalry loss to UCLA last week, the men’s volleyball team looks to continue learning from its mistakes in order to bounce back before heading up north to take on No. 8 Stanford on Thursday.
“Our preparation has still been about learning volleyball, developing the mentality, being engaged, being ready, learning the IQ, working on some of the techniques that we have been trying to hone and trying to drill in them and taking it to the next level,” head coach Jeff Nygaard said.
Even with reinforcement from the coaches on the basics, the Trojans will find Stanford to be a difficult team to defeat if they do not take it to that next level. The Cardinals thrived in their opening game in MPSF play against Pepperdine with a team season high of 46 digs, a career high 21 kills for freshman outside hitter Jordan Ewert and a career bests in assists (45) and digs (11) for freshman setter Paul Bischoff.
“They just have a good brand of volleyball,” Nygaard said. “Their strength has always been passing and offensive system. There are going to be five attackers against three blockers when they do their system well.”
Despite the impressive stats from Stanford’s last game, Nygaard is making sure the team keeps its focus on its side of the net. If they do this, Nygaard hopes his team will put pressure on Stanford and force them to make the plays instead of handing them free points from errors on their side.
“It is just a question of if you execute at a high level,” Nygaard said. “They are going to do some things that you probably haven’t seen before, but you’ve still got to compete. We are talking about the top-tier teams, so you’re not going to shut anybody down. You just need to play and keep them at a certain level, and then you need to be above that level to give yourself a shot.”
That competitive edge just might come from 6-foot-2 community college transfer Gianluca Grasso, who has officially joined the team and might be able to play on Thursday. The team staff has been working for over a year to get Grasso to USC, and it is finally becoming a reality.
Hailing from Sao Paolo, Brazil, Grasso was named the All-Pacific Coast Conference Co-MVP playing for Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa last year. Grasso has volleyball in his blood, as his two siblings played volleyball in college, and both of his parents played for Brazil’s national teams. While he still needs to get used to the team’s system and fight for a starting position, Nygaard believes that the addition of Grasso would be beneficial for the team as a whole.
“He just comes in with that intimate knowledge of how volleyball works,” Nygaard said. “He has just been around it and inundated with it. He brings an experience factor of making reads and sees the game at a high level. He has a high volleyball IQ, and he has developed into an explosive player.”
With the uncertainty of Grasso for this game, the Trojans will look to maintain the intensity and competitiveness that won them their games earlier in the season. Nygaard’s focus is keeping his team’s energy high throughout the game, so that the Trojans can maintain control of the pace of the game.
“Of course, if we come in and expect to win, they are going to beat us,” said Nygaard. “If we come in prepared to battle, prepared to go head-to-head, prepared to first-whistle-last-whistle compete at a high level, I am happy with that. I think we will get the outcome we want.”