Currently holding an overall 6-15 record, and 2-5 in conference, the USC Men’s Volleyball team has struggled to find their rhythm this season. However, they will face No. 4 UC Irvine at home this Saturday coming off a solid road win against Stanford last weekend.
After falling in the first set 21-25, the Trojans came back and won three straight sets to take the match. Senior outside hitter Jack Wyett lead the team offensively with 15 kills and one ace. Freshman middle blocker Sam Lewis made a significant impact with 12 kills and six blocks by the end of the night, also contributing two aces. Junior outside hitter Gianluca Grasso had an outstanding service performance with three aces and an additional seven kills. Junior outside hitter Ryan Moss boasted a .438 hitting percentage with his seven kills. Setters freshman Chris Hall and redshirt senior Gert Lisha successfully ran their 6-2 offense with 18 and 22 assists, respectively. Freshman libero Cole Paxson lead the team in serve receive and defensively with five digs.
“There was more energy throughout the team, and we played more as a cohesive unit,” Wyett said. “With that, everything else just followed. We made our serves a lot down the stretch. [Lewis] was a big factor for us during crunch time. And our defense was pretty tenacious throughout the whole match. The mentality throughout was super strong in comparison to our other matches.”
As for Stanford, freshman opposite hitter Jaylen Jasper led the team with 20 kills along with freshman outside hitter JP Reilly, who added 13 kills. Junior setter Russell Dervay put up 43 assists with the help of senior libero Evan Enriques who had a .973 reception percentage and 13 digs. The Cardinal made a total of 28 errors to USC’s 16, leaving them with little room for victory.
This Saturday the Men of Troy will return home to play UC Irvine in a non-conference match. They will rely on their big hitters, Wyett, Lewis, Grasso, and Moss, along with Lisha and Hall as setters. Sophomore opposite Aaron Strange weighed in on what they need to do technically to beat the Anteaters.
“We definitely have to take their angle away because they are an angle dominant hitting team,” Strange said. “They don’t really hit balls extremely hard. They are very shotty. Our back row defense needs to be prepared to pick up tips. As for serving goals, we need to serve hard and not let that interfere with our mental game.”
They will be looking at Paxson and libero Matt Douglas to defend against their shots.
With a more mental view of the game, Wyett spoke to their team goals.
“We need to go in with the mentality that we can beat them,” Wyett said. “They have a couple really good guys. And I think if we can shut them down in the early part of the match it will instill the mentality that we are capable of beating any team.”
The Trojans will need to defend against the Anteaters coming off a win against UC San Diego. Freshman middle blocker Austin Wilmot was named Big West Defensive Player of the Week this week after average 1.82 blocks over 11 sets. In their most recent match against the Tritons, he put up 13 blocks.
Also in their last match, senior outside hitter Aaron Koubi put up 12 kills. He was followed closely by junior opposite hitter Karl Apfelbach and freshman outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller who each added 11 kills. Defensively, sophomore middle blocker Scott Stadick had 4 blocks and senior outside hitter David Parker contributed 8 digs.
The Trojans will need to defend and strategically put the ball away by avoiding their block. They will look to improve their record and gain more momentum for their last few games of the season, ending with a match-up against UCLA on March 31.