Following USC’s upset victory against UC Irvine on Friday, which ended a five-match losing streak, the men’s volleyball team looked to carry the momentum over and defeat UCSD one day later at home. Though USC had defeated the Tritons 44 out of the 52 times the two programs had played going into the match — with the Trojans taking the last six straight — UCSD narrowly edged out USC for a 4-1 win at the Galen Center on Saturday.
“We faced a great opponent in UCI and we were able to get the victory,” head coach Jeff Nygaard said in an interview with USC Athletics. “Then, the next night I felt that we were a little surprised at times how well [UCSD] was going to consistently get kills, make effort plays.”
UCSD’s junior opposite Tanner Syftestad led his team and the match with 26 kills, and he steered his side to its first MPSF victory since April 2014. While the Tritons set career highs for many of the players, it was not because of the Trojans’ lack of play on their side of the net.
The entire match was a series of back-and-forth scoring, with neither team being able to get the edge until the final points of each set. The first set was deadlocked at 23-23 before the Trojans took the set with two consecutive kills. The second set was just as tight as the first, with the two teams tied at 23-23. It would be the Tritons this time who scored two consecutive points to earn them the victory in the second set.
“I don’t feel like we were clicking that well, but we still managed to push them to deuce games every single game,” Nygaard said.
For USC, three players had kills in double figures. Senior outside hitter Lucas Yoder had 20, recently transferred sophomore outside hitter Gianluca Grasso tallied 14 and freshman opposite hitter Aaron Strange had 11. Along with putting up more kills than UCSD, the Trojans also ended the match with more assists and digs than the Tritons.
“On paper, I would like to believe that our team should be beating that team 10 times out of 10,” Nygaard said. “But in there, we weren’t able to handle it.”
The total numbers may seem to contradict the final score, but the hitting percentages of each team tells the real story of how the game played out. The Trojans hit .252 in comparison to UCSD’s .317, which gave the Tritons a significant edge throughout the match. In addition to the superior efficiency, UCSD also recorded 14.5 team blocks, which was 6.5 more than USC’s total.
“We had come off a big win, and I felt our focus was there, which is why we were so frustrated when we made the errors,” Nygaard said. “It’s also that [UCSD] played a great game.”
Ultimately, the game was won through accuracy at the net. The addition of Grasso adds a new element to USC, which is rapidly being showcased the more games he gets under his belt. Grasso has notched double-digit kills in three of his four matches so far in Cardinal and Gold. The Trojans will look to feed off of Grasso as they take on three more tough teams during their four-game homestand. Next up is BYU, who will visit the Galen Center on Friday.