Trojan spring sports starting up again
As students and faculty alike prepare to return for the spring semester, fall sports conclude and spring competitions begin. Increased coronavirus restrictions have postponed certain events, namely men’s and women’s basketball, but there are still plenty of USC sports yet to begin. Here are some teams to look out for in their upcoming seasons.
Men’s and Women’s Basketball
Despite a slough of postponements and cancelations, both USC basketball teams had strong early-season showings and are now looking to solidify themselves in Pac-12 play.
Men’s basketball sits at No. 5 in the national rankings after a 13-1 start to its season. The team’s undefeated run came to a close Jan. 11 with a 75-69 loss to Stanford on the road, pushing the Trojans to a 3-1 conference record. USC’s strong defense is a characteristic of Head Coach Andy Enfield’s program, and the team ranks 19th in the nation in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency metric this season. As one of the major contenders in the Pac-12, the pressure will continue to build with each game as more eyes turn to the Trojans.
Women’s basketball rattled off three straight wins to begin its season under new Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb and now sits at 8-4 on the season. Despite a slow start to conference play, the team is trending in the right direction — a blowout loss to Colorado was followed up by a 76-67 upset win over No. 4 Arizona, ending the Wildcats’ unbeaten season. USC will host Washington State Jan. 14 at the Galen Center with an opportunity to further their case in the Pac-12.
The season is young for men’s volleyball, but the team appears to be in midseason form. The Trojans ranked just outside the top 15 in the preseason poll but are already taking down ranked opponents. In its first two games of the new year, USC beat No. 11 UC Santa Barbara on back-to-back days Jan. 6 and 7 in five and four sets, respectively. Two early road victories set the Trojans up for two home games against Princeton Jan. 12 and Erskine Jan. 14.
Graduate student outside hitter Sam Kobrine transferred to USC from UCLA in 2021, adding an accomplished resume to the Trojans’ roster. Starting in every match for the Bruins, Kobrine earned All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation first team honors last season. Picking up from where he left off, Kobrine leads the team with 33 kills over the first two games. Kobrine’s veteran play will be crucial for the Trojans as they look to best last season’s 5-13 record.
Women’s Beach Volleyball
After securing a National Championship win in 2021, the women’s beach volleyball team returns with high expectations once again. A 30-4 record was capped off by a signature win over No. 1 ranked UCLA in the National Championship game last season.
Head Coach Dain Blanton has accelerated the program’s winning over his three-year tenure in charge. His 2020 squad finished just 6-5, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the season early. Last year’s resurgence continued the winning tradition of previous Head Coach Anna Collier, the first ever head coach of the program and a two-time National Coach of the Year.
The pair of now-senior Tina Graudina and sophomore Megan Kraft shined last season and both are returning to the squad in 2022. The duo was named Pac-12 Pair of the Year, and individually, Graudina was named Player of the Year and Kraft the Freshman of the Year. The two aren’t the only pair returning though, as the No. 2 pair in last season’s championship matchup against UCLA, now-graduate students Julia Scoles and Sammy Slater, is returning to the team as well.
USC retained its core of players from last season’s success and will defend its title in 2022. The Trojans will begin their season Feb. 24 against Long Beach State.
The Trojans ended the 2021 season with a win percentage just under .500 and sat in ninth place in the Pac-12. With room for improvement heading into 2022, the team will lean on last season’s top performers once again.
Sophomore catcher Garret Guillemette looks to lead the roster after a breakout freshman season. Guillemette had the second-best batting average on the team as a freshman last season at .299 and also pulled his weight defensively with a .994 fielding percentage. On the mound, redshirt senior starting pitcher Isaac Esqueda returns, having pitched the most innings for the Trojans last season. He posted a 3.47 ERA and a 6-3 record in 14 starts in 2021 and likely will serve as the team’s ace.
Along with the veterans, Head Coach Jason Gill put together the No. 17 ranked recruiting 2021 class in the nation. Eric Hammond headlines the group of freshmen. A right-hander from Texas, Hammond turned down professional opportunities to play for USC after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 19th round of the 2021 MLB draft.
The program’s history of success includes 12 national championships, and this year’s team is aiming to return to its former glory. USC will host its first game of the season Feb. 18 against Santa Clara.