Coming off a tight game against the No. 3 UCSB Gauchos, USC showed improvement and a newfound team dynamic with a four-set win over the St. Francis Red Flash. The win pushed USC’s record to 4-13 overall, while the Red Flash fell to 5-12.
USC’s freshman outside hitter Adam Flood believes the team is better than its record.
“As a team we have so much room to improve,” he said. “If we make those improvements, then we’ll be right up there in all respects.”
The Trojans dominated the stat sheet in Thursday’s matchup. USC outhit St. Francis and recorded 44 kills to St. Francis’ 33. The Red Flash’s blocking and ball placement forced the Trojans to play smarter at the net. The teams served inconsistently, recording 12 combined aces and 47 total serving errors.
USC junior libero Cole Paxson says preparation was the key aspect of USC’s win.
“We did our daily scouting, we got some good film on them against George Mason,” he said. “We got good tendencies, and we executed,”
The Trojans controlled the first set, maintaining a consistent lead throughout. Redshirt sophomore outside/opposite hitter Billy Fauntleroy played a major role on the court as he finished set one with a kill, hit .476 and led with 13 kills.
The Red Flash started the second set ahead, but the Trojans remained confident. Fauntleroy continued to lead the second set offensively, while sophomore outside hitter Brandon Browning contributed nine kills and Flood added seven. The Trojans quickly turned the set around, improving to a steady five-point hold over the Red Flash to make it 18-13. Utilizing tools off the Red Flash, the Trojans took the second set 25-18 again.
“[We] just [had] to play our game, let the blockers do what they’re going to do and as the back row be ready to move around [be]cause they’re a good shooting team,” Paxson said of the team’s defensive effort.
For the majority of the third set, the Red Flash rebounded and carried a lead over the Trojans. Despite the Trojans’ efforts, Red Flash junior setter Roman Szwabinsky and freshman middle blocker Thomas Leahey put up a big block at 20-23 to push the Trojans into a last chance timeout at 24-20. USC was unable to mount a comeback and dropped that set 25-20.
To set the fourth set’s pace, Browning pushed a Red Flash overpass back over, jousting it from the setter’s hands. The Trojans called a timeout down 12-10 to regroup, looking to find a rhythm to pull ahead and finish the game. After the timeout, the Trojans came back to maintain a two-point lead and then kept pushing points to break 20 and chip away.
Dictating the tone of the final points, USC sophomore setter Jameson McKibbin threw the ball back in a tight set to Fauntleroy, who played it smart and threw it through the block using the Red Flash’s hands to tool a key point.
Coming off a Red Flash timeout, Fauntleroy kept the Trojans’ energy going with an untouchable high kill down line. The Trojans finished the fourth set on a great play, as McKibbin dug the ball up behind him and Fauntleroy chased it down to bump set it back in the right spot to Browning, who terminated the ball with a straight down kill.
Fauntleroy said USC’s not out of the race for this year’s title contention.
“The goal is to win a national championship. Our record might not show that we can do that, however, I know each one of us believes it,” Fauntleroy said. “ Everyone makes our conference tournament ... the goal is to win cause I know we can.”
The Trojans will host Lindenwood in another non-conference match this Saturday.