Men’s volleyball has new coach, bad start

first_imgIt’s more than just a new season for the men’s volleyball team. For the first time in nine years, the program has a new coach. Jeff Nygaard spent the last five years as an assistant under former head coach Bill Ferguson. Nygaard is no stranger to volleyball: he is a three-time Olympian and a two-time College Player of the Year. Nygaard won two National Championships as a collegiate player.Under Nygaard, the Trojans will have to fill some key positions left by graduated players. Most notably at setter with Micah Christenson — a four-year starter, two-time All-American and Lloyd Ball Award winner — who now sets for the U.S. Men’s National Team. USC will also have to replace a hole in the middle left by Robert Feathers, a three-year starter at middle blocker. Opposite hitter Christian Rivera and middle blocker Chris Lischke also graduated. Outside hitter Larry Tuileta, a 2015 MPSF All-Freshman team selection, did not return for this season.Last season, the Trojans were 19-9 and 15-7 in the MPSF for a fourth place finish. The Trojans got off to a hot start last season with eight straight wins and advanced to the semifinals in the MPSF Tournament, but the team lost in a five-set match at UC Irvine. The Trojans finished the year with a No. 7 ranking in the nation. The team is currently ranked No. 13 after being swept by both No. 10 Penn State and No. 7 Ohio State.Despite losing key players and leaders on the court, senior libero Brooks Varni and senior outside hitter Alex Slaught are leading the team on the court as the two captains.Other than Varni and Slaught, junior middle blocker and two-year starter Andy Benesh will look to carry the Trojans with a solid presence at the net. Benesh spent the summer playing with both the U.S. Men’s Junior National Team and U.S. Men’s National Team. He picked up a silver medal with the Junior National Team at the U21 Pan American Cup. Last season, Benesh led the team with a .394 hitting percentage and 93 blocks. After a successful summer, Benesh should continue to mature as a leader at the net for the Trojans.“[Benesh’s] dedication to improving will make us a better team,” Nygaard said.The Trojans also added five talented freshmen this season. Outside hitters Woody Cook, Ryan Moss and Blake Markland, middle blocker Tyler Resnick and libero Matt Douglas. Cook and Moss could also see time at opposite.“I really think that the freshmen have done a good job of adjusting to a much more rigorous fall than we’ve had in the past,” Slaught said.Junior outside hitter Lucas Yoder was absent from much of last season, but he rededicated himself to the sport this fall and looks to play near the form that awarded him the 2014 National and MPSF Freshman of the Year honors. As a freshman, Yoder led the team with 394 kills while having a .303 hitting percentage, 111 digs, 33 blocks and 13 aces.For Nygaard, excellence is what he strives for the team — it’s the “norm” at USC.“Our focus moving forward is to become sustainably great,” Nygaard said. “Our emphasis in training has been to improve our physicality, our competitiveness and our volleyball IQ.”The charge under Nygaard has been felt since the team started practicing in the fall. In achieving the excellence that Nygaard talks about, he put early emphasis on his expectations for the team.“Setting the expectations and establishing the culture has been at the top of the to-do list,” Nygaard said.Varni noted about how the culture around the team has changed to more of a “business” and “nitty gritty” atmosphere.“We’re not here to fool around and have fun, but we’re here to compete and to work really hard,” Varni said.Nygaard’s expectations have translated well to the team. Slaught knows his coach’s expectations for hard work and determination.“We’re going to come into the gym every day and work as hard as we can [to] give ourselves the best opportunity to be in the contention for a national championship at the end of the year,” Slaught said.last_img