USC men’s volleyball lost to Concordia 3-2 on Saturday at the Galen Center, with service and hitting errors costing them throughout. While the third and fourth sets had Concordia and USC going point for point, USC’s execution faltered in the fifth, allowing Concordia to take home the victory.
Errors plagued the Trojans early on, with the first set opening with a USC service error. Aggressive net play by redshirt junior outside hitter Billy Fauntleroy prevented Concordia from taking a large lead. An odd interference by USC’s line judge started the Trojans on a four-point run from 7-7 to 11-7.
Bold plays like senior libero Cole Paxson’s set to redshirt senior middle blocker Vecas Lewin, combined with consistent serving, gave USC a strong lead over Concordia. The Eagles tried to claw their way back into the lead, but that run in the middle of the game proved too much for them to overcome.
Junior outside hitter Brandon Browning showed off his backcourt skills with a powerful back row quick early in the first set, while Lewin kept up his aggressive play at the net, winning USC key points that kept the ball out of Concordia’s hands. USC’s execution faltered in the middle of the set, with eight combined service and hitting errors making the game tight. Concordia also continued to dominate USC on blocking, limiting the Trojans to zero blocks.
Coach Jeff Nygaard said after the game that while Fauntleroy has been a force on the team, Browning impressed him the most with his intensity and high level of play.
“Tonight, statistically, he had a phenomenal match, but I liked how focused and physical he was consistently going in against BYU and then his output tonight was at a very high level,” Nygaard said. “And you can see it on his face how badly he wanted to win and how much he was willing to risk in order to make that happen.”
Concordia’s junior outside hitter Erik Boisvert gave USC some trouble with his serve, widening Concordia’s lead late in set two with a five-point run. USC battled to win the set at 24-23, but Concordia was able to hold onto the lead despite its own service and hitting errors to win the second set.
Nygaard said the Trojans’ service errors prevented them from getting key runs and ultimately cost them the game.
“It’s something that we definitely know that we need to get better at. We definitely need to be able to draw things from the back line far better,” he said. “And it’s something that the guys, after talking after the match, we’re being accountable for it.”
Tied at one set apiece, USC set the tone for what would be an aggressive third set with a setter dump by senior setter Chris Hall. That same offensive play kept them in the game despite back-to-back service errors keeping the game tight at 16-16. Another big backcourt kill by Browning gave the ball back to USC, but a constant back and forth made for a dramatic end of the set.
In the third set, a big block by Concordia was met with a big rip by Fauntleroy on the right side, followed by a Fauntleroy foot fault. A USC service error ultimately led to a late Concordia lead at 24-22. USC tried to save the set with a big kill from Fauntleroy, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Concordia from clinching the win.
USC brought the same intensity to set four. Fauntleroy opened the set looking big on the outside, but Concordia managed to stay close to USC early on, looking to take the lead. The set was beginning to look just as close as the third, when Concordia got aggressive on the net and at the service line, widening its lead to five points over USC.
Another impressive backcourt kill by Browning saved USC from falling too far behind. The Trojans made a great offensive effort, but impressive coverage by the Eagles’ senior libero Addison Enriques kept Concordia in the game. A big block by redshirt junior outside hitter Clay Dickinson on Concordia’s strong right side shifted the momentum in USC’s favor and grew its lead to 17-13. An impressive swing by USC’s sophomore middle blocker Max Beck kept USC five points ahead at 20-15. The Trojans kept the pressure on Concordia until the end, with Paxton’s digs keeping the ball alive during a few long rallies late in the game. Two back-to-back service errors by Concordia handed USC the lead, and ultimately the fourth set.
The margin for error in the fifth set shrunk, with the teams fighting to fifteen. USC started the last set sloppy. A big kill by Fauntleroy was met by a shutdown from Concordia’s graduate opposite Jesper Schut the very next point, widening their lead to 5-2. USC’s good defensive play kept them in the running, and a service ace in the seam by Hall tied the game at 5-5. Another big block by Dickinson gave the Trojans the lead, but a tricky tip by Concordia’s outside hitter swung the momentum back in the Eagles’ favor.
USC had the chance to stifle Concordia’s growing lead, but an easy serve from USC set up Concordia for a big swing, putting them at 11-8. After going point for point for a few rounds, a hitting error by USC primed Concordia to win the set at 14-9 and gave the Trojans too big a lead to overcome. In the end, a big kill by Concordia’s leading man, graduate outside hitter Raymond Barsemian, handed USC another loss at its home court.
Nygaard said his players will focus on their health and wellness after such a physically taxing match, and work on getting service reps in the following practices as they prepare for a rematch against Concordia.
“I hope the guys come in open-minded and willing to learn because there’s far more things that we could definitely get better at,” Nygaard said. “And the good thing about playing a team consistently is that instead of having to prepare and mentally adjust to all the different pieces, you already know who is going to be playing.”
Nygaard said that despite being halfway through the season, the team continues to “build into” a better level of play. He expects that the team will be able to compete at a high level, especially after seeing how they were able to sustain themselves through a five set match.
The Trojans will face off against Concordia once again at the Eagles’ home court on Thursday at 7 p.m.