The unranked USC men’s volleyball team secured a 3-1 victory over No. 3 UC Irvine Wednesday at the Galen Center. Senior Jack Wyett led the team with 19 kills and 10 digs while seniors Ryan Moss and Gianluca Grasso added 16 and 14 kills, respectively.
The 5-2 Trojans started off hot, leading throughout the first set for a 25-19 final. The Anteaters shifted the momentum in the second set, scoring the first 5 points, but USC fired back with 5 consecutive points of its own to claim a 25-21 finish. The teams traded leads in the third set until UCI closed the deal with the final 4 points for a 21-25 set. The final set was close until the Trojans steadily pulled ahead for a 25-18 set to claim the victory.
Next, the Trojans will take on defending national champion Long Beach State Friday.
Although USC holds a 61-52 lead in its series with top-ranked Long Beach State, the team has lost in their last three meetings. The Men of Troy will face the Long Beach State 49ers once more in March for regular season play.
Long Beach is off to a 6-0 start in the 2019 season, sweeping every opponent they’ve faced in Grand Canyon, Concordia Irvine, Harvard, Mount Olive, Barton and UCLA.
Senior outside hitter TJ DeFalco will be a player to watch, leading the 49ers with 65 kills. Senior setter Josh Tuaniga is leading the nation with 202 assists and an average of 11.73 per set. Tuaniga is also the reigning National Player of the Year. Senior libero Jordan Molina leads the defense with 36 digs on the season.
After back-to-back road trips the past two weekends, the Trojans will focus on mental preparation for this match, refusing to allow fatigue to get the better of them.
“We’ve kind of been trying to take our minds off of volleyball a little bit, just because we’ve done so much of it recently,” Wyett said. “We’ve definitely had a lot of schoolwork to catch up on too.”
Playing against the top-ranked team, the Trojans will benefit from that mental preparation, which will block out any nerves.
“You kind of have to get used to it because it’s a lot of that throughout the season,” Wyett said.
The Trojans have already taken on two top-5 opponents this season, falling 0-3 to then-No. 4 Hawaii, and upsetting No. 3 UC Irvine on Wednesday.
“Our passing has been pretty good, but serving and blocking is something we can work on,” Wyett said.
Beyond that, focusing on what they’re doing in practice and implementing it into the game will be the Trojans’ main strategy against Long Beach State.
“[It’s good] knowing that the worst thing that happens is you have a bad game, and then the next night you can have a good game,” Wyett said. “So it’s just knowing that at end of the day it’s just a sport and you’re there having fun with it. We’ve done it a thousand times so it’s not anything we’re not prepared for.”
USC will take on Long Beach State Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at Walter Pyramid for Long Beach State’s 2019 season home opener. The 49ers will raise their National Championship banner, the team’s first since 1991, during a brief ceremony before the game.