Men’s volleyball chases first at First Point

USC is headed to The Lone Star State for the first big tournament of the season.

Sophomore outside hitter Dillon Klein is leading the No. 12 Trojans with skills he’s acquired from being a member of the  2023 U21 World Championships (Robert Westermann / Daily Trojan)

No. 13 USC will face its first big test of the season this weekend when they travel to Austin, Texas for the First Point Collegiate Challenge. 

The 4-0 Trojans will be taking on No. 14 ranked Ball State University Friday at 11:30 a.m. and No. 4 Ohio State Saturday, also at 11:30 a.m. These mark the first-ranked matches on the Trojans’ schedule this season.

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USC matched up against the Buckeyes last season on Feb. 4, 2023, during the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge and lost 3-1. Both teams were ranked during that matchup as well.

The game against the Buckeyes this weekend is the first of two chances the Trojans will have to avenge last season’s loss, with the second game coming on March 8 during this season’s edition of the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. 

However, the Trojans aren’t distracted by the other teams’ high rankings or past and future matchups. They’re focused on this weekend and controlling what they can control in their two games. 

“Our job is to make sure that we do everything we can to go out there and be in the moment,” Head Coach Jeff Nygaard said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “The toughest team you might face per year is yourself. If you can master yourself, then you can go into different environments with different considerations and just go and compete.” 

The Trojans’ star sophomore outside hitter, Dillon Klein, echoed the perspective that focusing on their own side of the net is going to be important for the Trojans early in the season. 

“We gotta stay focused on our own game, and if we keep that [the] number one priority in our minds, I don’t see any teams doing anything that we’re not going to be expecting,” Klein said. “The wins should come if we play our own game 100% of the time.” 

Klein’s consistency will be vital for the overall performance of the Trojans this weekend, given that they rely on him not only to hit but additionally to block and defend. 

Fortunately for the Trojans, Klein comes into his sophomore season as an experienced player with more physical and mental preparation.

“I think some of his experience playing with the [United States] national team on the back end of our season helped give him a breadth of experience of how to compete at a higher level,” Nygaard said. “He walked back into our gym and started doing some things day one that he had learned from that, and all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s elevated his game.’” 

Klein had his best game of the season Saturday against Lincoln Memorial University, racking up a season-high 24 kills on .524 hitting. His 27-point total was the second-highest of his entire career. 

His momentum is sky-high heading into the big matches this weekend. 

Senior middle blocker Kyle Paulson has also shown all-around improvement this season. His most well-rounded performance came in the Trojans’ season opener against Fort Valley State University, in which Paulson registered a career-high four service aces to go with 5 kills and two total blocks. 

Paulson is ecstatic about his and his team’s readiness to take on their latest challenge. 

“We’ve been going hard in the weight room and I think everybody’s gonna be ready this year,” Paulson said. 

The Trojans are going to need to lean heavily on the big-game experience of both veterans to lead a young roster to two big-ranked victories. 

Find out if they can pull off those wins Friday and Saturday, with both games starting at 11:30 a.m. and being televised by FloVolleyball.

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