Pepperdine sophomore setter Bryce Dvorak sets up a teammate versus USC on Feb. 23. Dvorak contributed to the effort with seven blocks and two kills. Photos by Lucian Himes
Though the Waves had historically found success against the Trojans, this year the Trojans had surprised everyone when they came from being unranked to now No. 5 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings. The Waves split the season series with Grand Canyon University and were able to bounce back with a victory over USC.
“I’m very proud because the season hadn’t started the way we wanted it in particular,” graduate student outside hitter Austin Wilmot said. “But every game, we show a little bit more fight. And this game, we fought back in the fourth set and the fifth set was really crucial and I think we pulled out a really big win tonight.”
The Waves started the first set lackadaisical in energy, as the Trojans came out with 4-2 run to start the game. Graduate student outside hitter Jaylen Jasper and redshirt sophomore opposite Jacob Steele’s kills jumpstarted the offense for the Waves, tying the game at five apiece.
“It’s sort of like a boxing match,” Men’s Volleyball Head Coach David Hunt said. “‘What are they going to do? What are we going to do?’ It’s a little bit of a feeling out process.”
The Trojans took control early, but the Waves got three consecutive points and they closed in the gap with the score at 15-14. The Waves tied the set after Jasper converted on a block. But the Trojans kept their lead with a 5-2 run and claimed victory over the first set at 25-23.
The Waves had a more energetic start in their second set. A 3-1 run was ignited with a kill from graduate student outside hitter Spencer Wickens. Then, as USC graduate student outside hitter Sam Kobrine went up for an attack, sophomore setter Bryce Dvorak read the play and scored on a block and Pepperdine’s bench erupted.
Several Trojan errors added to the Waves’ offensive cause. Wilmot’s kill and a kill from Jasper extended the Waves’ lead to 7-4.
“I think [Hunt] just called some timeouts and settled us down a little bit and he just reminded us of the game plan,” Wilmot said. “Sometimes when the ball is moving really fast, you can leave your assignment, but he just reminded us all of what we’re supposed to do that moment in that very play and I think that really helped get us back on track.”
The Trojans responded with a 5-2 run, but a combined effort from sophomore middle blocker Anderson Fuller and Dvorak added another block to the scoring effort and increased the Waves lead to 11-8 in the second set.
The Waves kept the lead steady at 15-11. At this point of the game, the Waves had registered 19 kills on a .368 clip.
The Waves outscored the Trojans 10-5 to end the second set, which included a 4-0 run to keep the set out of reach.
“They had to be tough,” Hunt said. “That team is a good team. They’re chippy, they’re fiery, and our guys had to play together. I thought we showed more composure, more grit than those guys.”
The third set saw back-and-fourth action as both teams tried to find some separation from each other. USC redshirt sophomore opposite hitter Simon Gallas committed a costly service error, which launched a 5-1 run for the Waves.
Gallas had three attack errors and helped the Waves increase their lead to 9-6 early in the third set, though Gallas finished the game with 16 kills on a .160 clip.
“[Gallas] is really good,” Hunt said. “He hits the ball high consistently. We had to get some good spots around him and we basically had to be good with the fact that he’s an international level attacker and he’s going to have some range on his attacks,.”
The Trojans tried to rally with a 4-0 run of their own and eventually took the lead at 14-12.
Several critical runs from the Waves sent the Trojans a message that they weren’t backing down. A pair of 5-2 runs from the Waves tied the game at 25 apiece, but the Waves took control in the end with kills from Jasper, an attack error from Gallas and a kill from Steele.
“We changed our game plan a little bit toward the end,” Wilmot said. “It was a really good idea keying in on the middles because they did set the middles a lot towards the end. But, honestly just our big pins leaving early, and getting their guys, being big, taking away a lot of court really helped us.”
An early whistle in the fourth set disrupted a play when Dvorak took a swing at the ball.
USC senior setter Chris Hall took his complaints to the referee, and Hunt called for an act of unsportsmanlike conduct that ultimately led to a yellow card.
“They run their mouth a little bit and we knew that,” Hunt said. “I didn’t like the language they were using, and their coach got all fired up in the end and fired up at us and I think it just shows their lack of class on the whole, but nothing we can do about it.”
The Waves did not slow up in the fourth, as Steele dominated with three kills to keep up with the Trojans 4-4.
The Waves and Trojans went back and forth until USC senior middle blocker Liam Schroeder had a monster block on Jasper, tying the score 11-11.
“There’s no magic to it,” Hunt said. “It’s just ‘Hey, we know what they’re going to do and we know who they are. They’re not going to change that over time so let’s just be good.’”
Kobrine took a quick swing that appeared to be out. The Trojans challenged the play, which was overturned on a touch call. The Trojans took the fourth set 26-24.
In the fifth set, the Waves started strong thanks to a 3-0 run after Wilmot’s ace floater, causing a USC timeout.
“We have a lot of weapons, so it’s a challenge for our setters,” Hunt said. “[Dvorak] does a great job at that. It really comes down to the serve-pass game. I thought we were able to get them off the net a lot with our serving and we were able to manage their jump servers.”
The Trojans shifted the momentum and came back with four points to grab the lead. USC junior middle blocker Lucas Frassrand converted on an ace of his own to cause a Pepperdine timeout.
“When [Hunt] called a timeout, it really helped us refresh,” Wilmot said. “And I think sometimes we have too many thoughts in our heads at one time and we just have to think about what we need to do next.”
The teams exchanged sideouts, but the momentum seemed to shift with the crowd getting rowdy. The crowd screamed Kobrine’s name causing him to miss a crucial serve, tying the set 7-7.
Dvorak did not let up with his serves to create an 11-9 lead.
“I just come out firing,” Dvorak said about his confidence in the final set. Dvorak’s fastest serve of the match was 67.2 MPH.
Kobrine swung into the net, leading to a 14-13 setpoint for the Waves. Jasper added the effort with a solo block on Kobrine to end the set 15-13.
“Rankings don’t really matter,” Dvorak said. “Where we are right now is not where we’re going to be at the end of the season.”
The Waves take on McKendree University on March 4.
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