Twice in a row: USC swept by UCLA

This spring, the Trojans dropped to 2-15 in matches against AVCA-ranked opponents.

Simon Gallas is hitting the ball over the net. He is wearing a cardinal uniform and UCLA players are on the other side of the net waiting to block it.

After being defeated by UCLA on Thursday in three sets 22-25, 17-25, 22-25 at Pauley Pavilion, the Trojans were up to a rematch at home. However, it didn’t change their fate — the Bruins dominated the Trojans in three sets 20-25, 17-25, 20-25 Saturday night at Galen Center. The match marked USC’s sixth straight loss against the Bruins.

“They put a lot of stress on our offense and we hit a little bit below our season average by design,” USC head coach Jeff Nygaard said. “And if we can handle them and allow ourselves to be in a better system more often, I think we could hit more efficiently, put more strain and stress on them, and then it’s on us to make sure that we manage the defensive side.”

Despite facing a powerful adversary, the Trojans managed to put up a fight at home. During the first set, the lead changed seven times and the scores were tied twelve times.

Junior middle blocker Kyle Paulson achieved a new career-best with three service aces in the opening frame. Graduate outside hitter Kevin Kobrine contributed four kills for USC.

“Every Kobrine that’s come on over has had a great experience,” Nygaard said about Kobrine’s transition from being a Bruin to a Trojan. “I actually haven’t even thought about him adjusting to the team in months, so I guess he must be doing a great job.”

As far as Kobrine himself is concerned, he is thriving as a Trojan.

“SC has been a very good experience so far,” Kobrine said. “It’s definitely been a challenge adjusting to a new position because last year I played opposite and now I’m playing outside. But I want to embrace the challenge.”

At one point, USC had a four-point advantage over UCLA. With an 8-2 run, UCLA was quick to catch up, restoring their advantages. USC came back to lead 18-17 but failed to keep it going when UCLA stopped the Trojans’ momentum with a kill.

It’s no wonder UCLA never trailed in the second set — the side out rate was 94%. The score was tied once at 4-4, but the Bruins were hitting at 52.4% while the Trojans hit just 13.6%. The hitting percentage wasn’t any better in the third set. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Jackson Reed scored all four of his kills and produced 5.5 points in the third set. But the poor placement and the defensive failure allowed UCLA to secure the sweep with a 25-20 win.

“We have [two] more matches in the season before we go to the [MPSF],” Nygaard said. “And the best news about it is that we know specifically what we need to improve. So it’s a challenge and they have to step up and make sure that we get that done.”

After USC’s next match, the Trojans will celebrate their senior class of libero George Dyer, middle blocker Lucas Frassrand, redshirt junior opposite hitter Simon Gallas and Kobrine. During the rematch, Frassrand contributed three kills and three blocks.

“As a senior, this is my second to last time playing at Galen Center,” Frassrand said. “I remember when I came on my visit here, I was probably 17 and I was watching a USC-UCLA game. Now I’m one of the players on the field. I even used to watch videos of the games and now I’m in the videos.”

The Trojans will take on Concordia Thursday April 13 at CU Arena for the Trojans’ final away match before the MPSF tournament. USC’s regular-season finale against the Eagles will take place at Galen Center on Saturday, April 15.