Men’s volleyball welcomes new faces, searches for consistency

Sophomore middle blocker Sam Lewis led the Trojans with 87 blocks, 13 digs and 12 aces as a freshman last season. (Ling Luo / Daily Trojan)

Coming off an 8-20 season that saw two seven-game losing streaks, USC men’s volleyball hopes to make a statement early in the 2019 season.

USC is carrying itself with the motto “Resurgence,” hoping to bounce back from the most overall losses and conference losses in a season for the team since 2005. However, season highlights included sweeping No. 3 UCLA in the last home game of the season and defeating No. 5 Pepperdine in a 3-1 match in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.

“Resurgence” was palpable in the team’s first game of the season in which it defeated Canada’s No. 3 team Alberta in a 3-1 match. Senior outside hitter Jack Wyett led the offense with 16 kills and a .560 hitting percentage, and senior outside hitter Ryan Moss contributed 12 kills. Sophomore setter Chris Hall filled the void left by graduating setter Gert Lisha, leading the offense with 34 assists.

“Last season did not meet the standard of excellence that we are used to at USC, not even close,” said head coach Jeff Nygaard. “All of us were disappointed and upset with how we performed. We have embraced the challenge of bouncing back in 2019. I believe we will.”

Nygaard is in his fourth year as head coach and holds a 29-53 overall record. He spent five seasons prior as the middle blockers and lead assistant coach.

The Trojans will return 14 players and add some new faces to the roster this season. Wyett will lead USC in both sides of the game. He finished last season with a .290 hitting percentage and led the team in overall digs with 151, earning All-MPSF first team honors and 2018 AVCA All-American honorable mention. In seven games, he boasted over 20 kills.

“Jack carried a big load for us last year and delivered, and I expect it will be more of the same this year,” Nygaard said. “After gaining valuable training experience with the USA team this summer, he comes back more seasoned and physical and with higher expectations, from both himself and us.”

Sophomore middle blocker Sam Lewis will take on a leadership role on the Trojan squad after captaining the 2018 USA Volleyball Junior National Team. He finished the 2018 season as an MPSF All-Freshman selection with a .334 hitting percentage and team-high 87 blocks. Although he is currently recovering from a collapsed lung, Lewis’ National Team experience should carry the Trojans throughout the season once he recovers.

Senior outside hitter Gianluca Grasso trailed Wyett last season with 275 kills and lead the team with 45 aces, ranking No. 10 nationally in aces. His crafty technique combined with Moss’ versatility at any position should give the Trojans an edge in the MPSF.

The Trojans will add the 2018 National Player of the Year and All-CIF Division I Player of the Year in freshman outside hitter Brandon Browning. Browning will have to compete against Wyett and Grasso’s experience and leadership, but his experience playing two years on the USA Volleyball Youth National Team and tenacious effort could sneak him into the lineup.

“Brandon is the real deal,” Nygaard said. “There is no mystery why he was so highly decorated in high school. He has no real weaknesses for a young player.”

USC will also become home to junior middle blocker and Santa Monica College transfer Vecas Lewin, as well as freshman setter Jameson McKibbin, who is following the steps of his two brothers, uncle and aunt to USC volleyball programs.

The Men of Troy will head to Honolulu on Jan. 10 to kick off the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Warrior Classic against Concordia University.