USC loses back-to-back matches to UCLA

Dillon Klein attacks the ball for the Trojans.
Freshman outside hitter Dillon Klein leads the Trojans with 311 kills this season while hitting .263. (Drake Lee | Daily Trojan)

Men’s volleyball fell to No. 2 UCLA in three straight sets Saturday. The Trojans, ranked No. 12, are now 8-15 overall and are 1-9 in MPSF play. 

The result was no different than the Trojans’ match against UCLA Thursday at the Pauley Pavilion that saw USC again lose in three sets. The Trojans were looking to make a statement win at home against the top-seeded Bruins, but UCLA had an answer for anything USC threw at them. 

“[UCLA’s] whole team is designed to put stress on the offensive side, so kudos to them. They consistently put us in trouble,” said Head Coach Jeff Nygaard.

USC started the first set strong. They were able to build a 10-6 lead behind junior middle blocker Kyle Paulson, who served three straight aces that energized the crowd at Galen Center. However, UCLA remained steady and the set was eventually tied at 18 apiece. It was largely a back-and-forth set, as both teams matched each other kill for kill, error for error. 

However, USC’s offense faltered and UCLA was able to dominate at the net, securing five kills and one ace to put the Trojans away in the first set. The second set was not as close, with USC trailing the entire set, eventually losing 17-25. UCLA was extremely efficient, notching a 0.524 hitting percentage and 14 kills on 21 attack attempts. This was in contrast to the Trojans’ 0.136 hitting percentage on 22 attack attempts. 

After the loss, Nygaard acknowledged his team’s offensive struggles.

“We just need to put the ball away more,” he said. “We have to take bigger swings. We have to be a little bit smarter with our decision making and find ways to put the ball to the floor.”

The third set was no different for USC, as they trailed big throughout the set until ultimately falling 20-25, solidifying the sweep. 

As Nygaard said, USC seemingly could not generate consistent offense Saturday night. Overall, the Trojans sported a 0.143 hitting percentage and failed to hit double-digit kills in any of their sets. UCLA nearly doubled USC’s kills and looked comfortable most of the night. 

“First ball contact [is] something we definitely have to adjust so we can run our system more effectively and efficiently,” Nygaard said. “We were actually really efficient with it to start the match, but over time [UCLA] just wore us out a little bit.” 

Senior middle blocker Lucas Frassand, who has scored 13 points over the last two games, echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“Technically we have to work on transition plays and high-ball settings so we can get the ball to our hitters better [so] our hitters can terminate the ball more,” Frassand said. 

Graduate outside hitter Kevin Kobrine led the Trojans with 9 total points on eight kills to go along with two blocks. Paulson added 7 points with four blocks, two kills and the aforementioned three aces. 

USC has now dropped eight matches in a row and sit in last place in the MPSF. However, they have two games left against Concordia University Irvine this week, and if they win both, they can secure the sixth seed in the conference. 

Frassand said he realizes the importance of winning both games against Concordia beyond the standings. 

“We want to beat Concordia twice to build some momentum. I think the mental piece is a big part of [success] and we need to be able to reset after losing games because Concordia is probably going to be our closest, easiest game,” Frassand said. “[It’s] very important for us to not come in last so we have an easier match in the first round of the tournament.”

The Trojans will hope to bring that mentality to Irvine Thursday at 7 p.m. as they hope to end what has been an up-and-down season on a high note.