No. 10 men’s volleyball set to host UC Irvine at Galen Center

USC players celebrate together after a point.
The Trojans will play back-to-back games against UC Irvine, both home and away, before returning to Galen Center to play UC San Diego. (Gina Nguyen | Daily Trojan)

Coming off of a weekend split with two Big Ten powerhouses at the Pac 12/Big Ten Challenge in Westwood, No. 10 USC men’s volleyball returns home to Galen Center Wednesday night, where they will host UC Irvine.

Sitting at 5-1 on the season, the Trojans are off to their best start under Head Coach Jeff Nygaard, who has led the program since 2015. USC upset then-No. 3 Penn State Friday night in Westwood, before falling to then-No. 11 Ohio State Saturday.

Leading the way in the Trojans’ hot start has been redshirt sophomore opposite hitter/outside hitter Simon Gallas. Gallas currently leads the team with 92 kills on the season. In addition, he is tied for the team lead with 8 service aces.

Redshirt senior captain setter Chris Hall is currently in his fifth year as a starter. Like many others, Hall took advantage of an NCAA rule that granted an additional year of eligibility to all student athletes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hall already has 236 assists on the season through just six games.

“The culture we’ve been building for a while is starting to show,” Hall said. “I think [our] experience is a huge thing, and I’m very comfortable with a lot of the people on the team, just from years of practice with them.” 

In addition to its offense, stout defense has played a key role in USC’s start to the season. The Trojans currently have four players with double-digit blocks on the season, including senior middle blocker Liam Schroeder, who leads the team with 20. USC’s defensive effort is also led by fellow seniors outside hitter Brandon Browning and libero Cole Paxson — a co-captain alongside Hall — who have 45 and 40 digs on the year, respectively.

While USC enters the match hot, UC Irvine’s start has been inconsistent, having been swept by then-No. 10 BYU in Provo, Utah over the weekend. The week prior, the Anteaters knocked off then-No. 12 Stanford in Irvine. UC Irvine currently sits at 3-3 on the season.

The Trojans must be wary of sophomore outside hitter Francesco Sani, who currently leads the Anteaters with 94 kills.

In order for USC to get its offensive attack going, it must find a way to get the ball past sophomore middle blocker Connor Campbell. Standing at 6-foot-7, Campbell has 34 blocks through the first six games of the season, nearly double that of the player with the second-most on the team.

“We definitely can’t underestimate them,” Hall said. “We’ve got to take them like they’re one of the best teams in the country, and we have to try to show respect by giving it our all.” 

Wednesday night’s match will mark the first USC men’s volleyball home game in front of fans since 2020.

“I love feeding off the energy of the crowd,” said Hall when asked about the return of fans. “Especially at a home game, it makes a big difference.” 

The Trojans and the Anteaters will square off at Galen Center on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.