Men’s Volleyball looks to knock off Bruins

Volleyball player sets up teammate for a hit
The Trojans prepare for their two game series against the Bruins which takes place Thursday away and Saturday at Galen Center. (Louis Chen | Daily Trojan)

No. 12 men’s volleyball will head uptown to Pauley Pavilion to take on UCLA this Thursday. They’ll head back down to Galen Center Friday to face them once more, in the third to last game of the regular season.

The Trojans are on a skid lately in a season that hasn’t been kind to them. They’re 8-13 after losing their last six games, and 2-11 in games against ranked opponents. They’ve won just one road match. But perhaps the most important game against their dreaded rival, who also happens to be ranked as one of the top teams in the nation, is just what they need to right the ship.

“I know we’re going to come out with our best effort,” said freshman outside hitter Dillon Klein, who leads the team in kills with 299. “I really do think we can beat this team.”

It certainly will take the Trojans’ best effort to knock off UCLA. Besides being ranked No. 2 in the country, the Bruins are 23-2 on the season, are undefeated in conference play and undefeated at Pauley Pavilion. It will have been nearly a month since their last loss when they play USC Thursday. 

But Head Coach Jeff Nygaard knows that his team won’t back down from a strong opponent and that they’ll go into it looking to make a statement.

“Rivalry means that we’re gonna be super focused, and wanting it, and we’re gonna have a lot of intensity to go out there and compete,” Nygaard said. “They’re playing some good volleyball, [but] we know what we’re capable of.”

Nygaard also noted that the will to compete in his team is only rising as the season nears its end and as the MPSF tournament shows itself on the horizon.

“It’s getting more and more intense on a daily basis. Guys are going down deep into that competitive spirit and they’re galvanizing,” Nygaard said. “They’re really coming together in a positive way saying ‘we’ve gotta get this done, we’ve gotta work harder and smarter, we’ve gotta be more intentful and intense’ … they’re responding positively. They know that we have a shot.”

Nygaard says they’ve used their close losses as positive mental reinforcement, and that his team is choosing to grow rather than allowing adversity to tear them down. He also mentioned that despite the recent series loss to BYU, he’s noticing that his team is growing closer and that that’s what he wants to see as the season nears a close.

“There was a moment at BYU where every single guy in unison said exactly the same thing in real time. That’s how you know that the guys are bought in and on point… we’re starting to really put it together,” Nygard said.

The team knows they need to focus on the here and now, with UCLA next on the schedule. But they also know their goal goes above and beyond just beating them. 

“UCLA might underestimate us just a little bit considering our losing streak and our record. Honestly, that doesn’t change a thing in our mind,” Klein said. “We have one goal and one goal only: Win the MPSF tournament and make it to the NCAA [tournament].”

Game one of the series will be Thursday at 7 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion, and game two will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. at Galen Center.