Men’s volleyball faces top teams

Freshman setter Jameson McKibbin (left) and senior libero Matt Douglas (right) celebrate after beating UC Irvine at Galen Center Jan. 23. (Josh Dunst/Daily Trojan)

The No. 6 USC men’s volleyball team will travel to Malibu to face No. 4 Pepperdine on Thursday night before hosting No. 5 UCLA at Galen Center for Senior Night on Saturday.

USC’s offense will be led by senior co-captains and outside hitters Ryan Moss and Jack Wyett. Moss and Wyett enter the match with a combined total of 560 kills on the season. They will be joined by fellow senior outside hitter Gianluca Grasso, who has tallied 211 kills this season.

Sophomore middle blocker Sam Lewis will lead the USC defense. Lewis overcame a collapsed lung injury suffered in November to re-establish himself as one of the Trojans’ most instrumental pieces. He recently set a single-game personal record of seven blocks, and has collected 56 blocks so far this season. He will be accompanied by fellow sophomore middle blocker Kyle Gear with 36 blocks this season.

Senior libero Matt Douglas and sophomore setter Chris Hall will fuel USC’s offense. Douglas has tallied 135 digs while Hall has aided his teammates with 693 assists this season.

USC’s record of already 15 wins and eight losses marks the best of any of the four seasons under the leadership of head coach Jeff Nygaard, and they have seen their rank climb dramatically over the course of the season. But despite all of the success that they have encountered this season, the Trojans remain humble and focused on the matches that lay ahead.

“[This] week is a big week for us and we have a ton of respect for Pepperdine as a team,” Moss said. “They’re having a great year. So we’re going to train hard and get our bodies right, and go in there with the same mentality we’ve been bringing these past couple of weeks.”

Part of that humility likely stems from the fact that the Trojans have gone 1-7 in opponents’ arenas this season, combined with the fact that the Waves are looking to avenge a loss at Galen Center in early March. The Trojans will have to overcome the odds to earn victory in their match on Thursday.

The challenges they face won’t end there, however, as USC will host the UCLA Bruins for the final match of the regular season on Saturday. The last time these two teams faced one another was in Westwood, where the Bruins swept the Trojans in three sets.

Since then, however, USC has won eight of its nine matches and taken down what was then considered the No. 1 team in the nation in Long Beach State in a convincing sweep. Additionally, the Trojans’ record at home remains perfect with 10 straight wins.

Moss commented on how the team seems to have found its rhythm and overcome early struggles.

“It took a while to figure it out… [but we have] had faith in ourselves all year,” he said.

Moss also spoke to how the team hopes to keep their recent trend of winning alive in these final matches of the season.

“We’ve definitely got some great momentum here,” he said. “UCLA, at home, on Senior Night, building into the playoffs… You couldn’t ask for anything better. We’ll be fired up and ready to go.”

The Trojans will face Pepperdine in Firestone Fieldhouse on Thursday at 7 p.m. and UCLA at Galen Center for Senior Night on Saturday at 7 p.m.