Men’s volleyball looks forward to challenge against Pepperdine

Outside and opposite hitter Billy Fauntleroy has a team-high 38 kills in USC’s first three games this season, all of which were against UCLA. (Peter Gastis | Daily Trojan)

This Wednesday, USC’s men’s volleyball team will be trying to get its season back on track against Pepperdine at Galen Center. The game was initially going to take place on Feb. 4, but it was postponed after a positive coronavirus test within USC’s program. The Trojans will also take on the Waves in Malibu on Friday.

Due to the high number of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County during the last several months, USC was unable to practice throughout much of the fall and was limited to just two weeks of workouts in early December 2020 and then a few more weeks of drills and practice in January.

Because of the strict safety precautions, the team has found it difficult to gain consistency and fluidity with timing for practices and games, and head coach Jeff Nygaard said having two consecutive games against Pepperdine this week gives the team the opportunity to establish an identity for the season. 

“The guys know and trust the system that we would like to run, and I know top to bottom, every single guy on the team knows exactly what we want to do and when we want to do it,” Nygaard said. “Going into this match against Pepperdine, we’ve got two of them in the same week so we get to test out some things that we want to do, and we get to test them against the team … They’re going to be a good, tough challenge for us.”

Redshirt junior outside and opposite hitter Billy Fauntleroy said that the team is approaching the pair of games against Pepperdine with optimism, and some improved strategy. The Trojans are currently 1-2 on the season, having won the first game of three opening games against UCLA before dropping the second two. 

“We’re coming off two losses against UCLA, two losses where we should have won,” Fauntleroy said. “It just means that we have to do a better job of closing sets. And I think that frustration we’ve had losing the past couple of games is going to serve us very well against Pepperdine.” 

The team is also working on improving serves and eliminating errors heading into the Pepperdine games. In just the last three games, Fauntleroy has hit 38 total kills. Nygaard was emphatic about his pride in the team’s resilience given how late they started practicing for the season.

“I love the fact that we are grinding it out and competing against teams that have been practicing for far longer than we have,” Nygaard said. “We still have opportunities to win and we’re going to get better, we’re gonna maximize those, we’re going to keep continuing to work hard and want to improve, and we’re going to start getting those victories.”

The Waves are heading into Wednesday and Friday’s matchup having already played double the number of games the Trojans have played, owning an overall record of 4-2. Two of those wins came against Stanford, whom the Waves just swept. 

Meanwhile, Pepperdine’s only two losses this season came against BYU, which currently sits atop the MPSF standings with a 5-1 record. If the Trojans hope to beat the Waves, they’ll have to overcome a lack of in-game experience thus far. 

First serve against Pepperdine is at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. The Trojans and Waves will face each other again at 6 p.m. on Friday.