USC starts season with 3-1 win over UCLA

Browning, Fauntleroy combined for 60 kills in the season opener.

USC men’s volleyball began its 2021 season with a beatdown over crosstown rival UCLA in four sets. UCLA entered the match ranked No. 6, but couldn’t overcome the Trojans’ early match success.

Junior outside hitter Brandon Browning and redshirt junior outside hitter Billy Fauntleroy pierced through the UCLA defense, combining for 34 of the Trojan’s 60 kills. Fauntleroy earned his points while showcasing his versatility, scoring from both the outside and opposite locations on a variety of different hits. Browning scored in an incredibly efficient manner, landing kills on 57% of his shots tonight.

In classic rivalry fashion, this match felt like every set was destined to be a tie at some point. No matter the deficit, each team maintained their composure and battled for every advantage.

USC head coach Jeff Nygaard finally got to see his team in action for the first time this season after three scheduled matchups were canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 complications.

“I wanted to see us execute [our] system,” Nygaard said. “The good news is we got challenged, which was great. That’s one way to galvanize the system. Tonight was a real nice opportunity for us to see how we absorbed the challenge.”

USC began the contest by winning two hard-fought, overtime sets that gave the Trojans the upper hand. Both were close competitions, but the Trojans prevailed to get off to an early two-set lead.

In the third set, UCLA found their momentum. Their 25-19 victory felt like a change in energy for the Bruins, which they could use to force a fifth set. But the Trojans regained their footing in the fourth set, closing out the match with a 26-24 win.

“The message was keep it on our side,” Nygaard said about handling the momentum change. “Let’s put a little more air under the ball, get a little more control of the game and then take care of things. The guys did it, and we immediately saw the results.”

Trojans senior setter Chris Hall put his team in an abundance of scoring positions, earning 13 of his game-high 49 assists in the final set.

Redshirt senior middle blocker Vecas Lewin and sophomore middle blocker Lucas Frassrand both made their presence felt at the net, demonstrating superb reactionary instincts. Frassrand totaled a game-high seven blocks at the net, while Lewin recorded two standout solo blocks.

UCLA’s freshman Ethan Champlin and redshirt senior Sam Kobrine spearheaded the Bruins’ offense, combining for 27 kills and 13 digs.

As a team, the Trojans outperformed their rivals in critical offensive categories. They ended the contest with more total attacks, a higher kill percentage, and more assists, which Nygaard attributes to roster continuity and preparation throughout the offseason.

“It’s no question that we gained a lot of valuable experience from last year going into this year,” Nygaard said. “We knew how to handle ourselves. We knew the energy output, we knew the game plan, we kept our heads about us. What’s been really fun about working with this group is they’re extremely coachable.”

The Trojans look to build on their victory tonight over the Bruins in another match Feb. 18 at the Galen Center.