The #13 USC men’s volleyball team, hot off an upset sweep of #5 UCLA, comes riding into UCSB tonight for a conference match with the #3 Gauchos. UCSB (7-2 overall, 5-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) defeated the Trojans (3-5, 2-3 MPSF) in three games at the Elephant Bar Invitational at UCSB earlier in the season.
“[This is] a big game for us,” senior outside hitter Aaron Richman said. “They have been an unsteady team, high and low.”
Before the sweep of UCLA (3-6, 1-5 MPSF), USC was on a two-match losing streak, including a 3-1 loss to UC San Diego. In the match against the Bruins, sophomore outside hitter C.J. Schellenberg and junior outside hitter Juan Figueroa led the Trojans with 17 and 16 kills, respectively. This was the Trojans’ first sweep of UCLA since 1991. The win pushed the Trojans to seventh place in the conference.
“USC has been up and down all year,” Richman said. “They lost to UCSD – and that was a big loss for them – but then swept UCLA. Every team is very unpredictable. This is a fickle sport, and you never know who will have a breakout night.”
The Gauchos, on the other hand, are fresh off of two road sweeps over MPSF opponents, Long Beach State (4-4, 2-3 MPSF) and UC San Diego (2-4, 1-4 MPSF). Last time the Gauchos played at home, they defeated UCLA in a come-from-behind victory in five games in front of a packed Rob Gym.
“It’s nice to come back to the gym,” Richman said. “It’s nice, we are playing better on the road than we did last year; we made it more of a priority. But we are happy to come to our gym and fans.”
Offensively, the Trojans are led by Figueroa and Schellenberg. Schellenberg leads USC with an average of 4.42 kills per game, with a total of 137 kills. Figueroa has recorded a 4.35 average, with a total of 135 kills. He also leads USC with nine aces at the line this season. Defensively, the Trojans are led by junior middle blocker Andrew Vernon with 27 total blocks, averaging 1.17 per game. Vernon also leads USC with a .463 hitting percentage.
“In practice we went over a lot of things,” Richman said. “We went over lots of defense and blocking. We prepared for hitters that we did for everyone. It comes down to who serves tough and has tough defense.”
The Gauchos are led by senior opposite Evan Patak, who leads the MPSF with a 6.54 kills per game average, racking up 157 on the season, and a total of 23 aces, for a 0.96 per game average. Junior middle blocker Theo Brunner leads the Gauchos with a .503 attack percentage, and is tied with senior middle blocker David Kennedy’s 37 total blocks for the team lead.
USC has not beaten the Gauchos since Jan. 8, 2005. Currently, the Gauchos are on a five-match winning streak against the Trojans.
“I [want to] see at least 1,500 fans,” junior outside hitter Michael Fisher said. “If we put on a fun show on the court … it will happen. We are a winning team, and we have so much fun. … I would love to see the gym packed.”
Tonight’s opening serve is set for 7 in Rob Gym.