The USC men’s volleyball team finished its abbreviated regular season with a 5-14 overall record and a 1-6 MPSF record.
While the Trojans were eagerly gearing up for the rest of their 2020 campaign after winning two of their last three games, the NCAA’s decision in reaction to COVID-19 forced the season to an abrupt end. Concerned with the health and safety of its athletes, the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring sporting events.
For the Trojans, the rest of the season consisted of eight more matches, including six influential MPSF matches. Without the results of those six matches, USC finished last in the MPSF conference standings. The Trojans lost the chance to improve their record, break the NCAA top 20 rankings or achieve their goal of making it to the playoffs.
The Trojans had their slowest start to a season since 2016, going 3-13 to begin both seasons. Despite this rough start, the team was optimistic about moving forward and improving with each match.
This season, USC collectively hit .271 with 891 kills, 557 digs and 93.5 blocks. They also had 92 aces compared to 336 service errors.
Redshirt sophomore outside-opposite hitter Billy Fauntleroy led the Trojans offensively with 167 kills, followed by sophomore outside hitter Brandon Browning with 149 kills and junior middle blocker/opposite hitter Kyle Gear with 131 kills. Setters junior Chris Hall and sophomore Jameson McKibbin played crucial roles on the court, earning 334 and 249 assists respectively.
The middle blockers put up a wall at the net. Senior Vecas Lewin had 28 blocks, junior Sam Lewis had 27 blocks and Gear had 23 blocks. Junior libero Cole Paxson consistently controlled the back row with 136 digs.
On Thursday, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation released its All-MPSF men’s volleyball selections. Unsurprisingly, BYU dominated the conference selections, comprising half of the All-MPSF First Team, while no Trojans received the honor.
USC freshman outside hitter Adam Flood was named to the MPSF All-Freshman Team for his stellar performance this season. Flood is the 13th Trojan to make the team. Notable for his explosive back row attacks, Flood hit .279 with 106 kills and collected 54 digs, 15 blocks and 10 aces. He started 12 of the 17 matches he played.
Coming off the high of their 2019 season, the Trojans faced a complete change of pace in 2020.
In 2019, the Trojans went 18-11 overall, claiming their most wins since 2015 and finishing third in the MPSF at 7-5 — their highest league finish since 2012. Additionally, USC was undefeated at home (12-0) for the first time since 2000, and the team’s .320 hitting percentage was its highest since 2011.
In comparison to USC’s 2019 season highlights, the 2020 season doesn’t look good. However, the key difference between the 2019 and 2020 seasons is experience.
Last spring, the Trojans lost several key graduating players: Jack Wyett who made All-American Second Team and All-MPSF First Team, Ryan Moss who also made All-MPSF First Team and Gianluca Grasso who made All-MPSF Second Team.
This 2020 season showed the impact of having a young team and the gradual process of building a unified team identity and rhythm. The Trojans’ 23-man roster consisted of ten freshmen and six sophomores (including redshirts), accounting for 70% of the team.
With the majority of the team being freshmen and sophomores, the Trojans were challenged with a lack of experience and the necessity of coming together to build a team identity.
The Trojans also missed the pivotal presence of Hall, who was injured at the beginning of February. Hall was a 2019 All-MPSF Honorable Mention and contributed 334 assists to the 2020 season before his injury.
In mid-February, the Trojans finally found their team identity and managed a .500 record in their final six games. As Browning described it after the UCLA match, “We’re coming together, we’re becoming fighters.”
Just as the Trojans were shaping up, their 2020 season was cut short. With the majority of the team returning next year, however, their momentum can only continue to grow. The 2021 squad could be an underdog team to watch.
In the meantime, USC athletes are home and focusing on staying healthy, finishing their schoolwork and preparing for next year.