The USC men’s volleyball team fell in three straight sets to No. 2 Brigham Young University on the road Saturday. The loss drops the Trojans to 1-5 in conference play and 3-12 overall while BYU improves to 15-0, extending its lead in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
USC was competitive at the beginning of each set, but individual errors allowed the Cougars to go on runs that dug the Trojans into the ground by the 25th point.
In the first two sets, BYU established substantial leads at the 10-point marker by forcing multiple offensive errors on behalf of USC. By the end of the game, the Trojans logged 21 errors compared to BYU’s eight.
The Trojans went neck-and-neck with the Cougars in the third set, giving themselves a chance to take the match to four sets as they executed five kills that established a lead by the 16th point. However, missed serving opportunities allowed BYU to reclaim the lead and eventually the game, with USC logging three service errors in the last 11 plays.
USC’s inconsistency could be attributed to BYU’s impressive serves and the Trojans’ inability to return them. BYU junior opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez currently leads the NCAA with 42 aces on the season. The second-closest player, UCLA freshman setter Mads Kyed Jensen, has 30.
While Fernandez didn’t finish a point behind the service line this match, his sheer power alongside servers like sophomore opposite hitter Alex Ah Sue and senior outside hitter Zach Eschenberg threw USC out of system multiple times, forcing setting adjustments and throwing the offense out of its normal position. While USC has capable hitters and adequate setter coverage, not being able to set up plays proved to be detrimental in handling opponents with a deadly offense of their own.
“They are a tough serving team and that put us out of system quite a lot of times,” sophomore setter Jameson McKibbin said. “And granted, our out-of-system setting is pretty solid, [but] there comes a point in time where you can’t just be out of system that much.”
Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Billy Fauntleroy provided the Trojans’ strongest individual performance. For the fifth match of the season, Fauntleroy logged double-digit kills, collecting 14 in the three matches out of an overall 27 attacks.
While proving an explosive force at the net, the production gap between his play and that of his teammates was substantial in this game. Freshman outside hitter Adam Flood seconded Fauntleroy’s performance with seven kills, but got only 16 looks overall.
Having one player lead the entire team by double digits in production on the net suggests a lack of confidence in executing a diversified set of plays. Even though BYU’s top offensive performer, sophomore outside hitter Davide Gardini, finished with just nine kills in comparison, the team still outpaced the Trojans in total number of kills. Seven players logged multiple kills while USC had five.
As USC looks forward to continued conference play with another ranked matchup next weekend against No. 3 UC Santa Barbara, the Trojans will have to prepare for another tough serving team and an offense that has the capability to dominate. If they want to prevent point runs that lead to irreconcilable leads, USC will have to limit errors and be able to finish multiple offensive routes.
“It just comes down to those one or two small plays that can just change the tables,” McKibbin said. “We just kind of fell short in the end. That’s just something we’re continually working on.”
USC will play UCSB at North Gym Saturday at 2 p.m.