After exorcising their past demons with a workman-like three-set win against a No. 12 Cal State Northridge team they had not beaten in 17 matches, the No. 1 USC men’s volleyball team returns to action tonight against No. 11 Long Beach State.Undoubtedly, the Trojans’ first conference win of the season against a team that unceremoniously knocked them out of the first round of the MPSF tournament last season should help the team’s psyche, allowing the players to move past last year’s unfulfilling postseason cameo.“We finally got the monkey off our backs,” said senior setter Riley McKibbin. “We haven’t beaten them in eight years, and I know it was a big win for juniors, seniors and the Trojan Family.”As the Trojans will face an opponent of similar caliber tonight, they cannot bask in this long overdue victory. In fact, Long Beach State edged out No. 3 Pepperdine in five sets to stun the Waves on Wednesday, putting the Trojans on upset alert.Long Beach State, led by junior opposite Jim Baughman who recorded a match-high 21 kills against Pepperdine, will run its offense at a fast tempo, featuring several players with various service repertoires.“They are going to try to run more back row stuff, and they are going to serve really well,” said coach Bill Ferguson. “We are going to have to really be on our game, and make a lot of adjustments as the match goes on.”Ferguson did not wish to dwell too much on scouting reports, however, as he is still in the process of configuring his lineups and refining his system. A common refrain among Ferguson and players alike is that the blocking needs to improve.“We need to continue to get better blocking the ball,” Ferguson said. “We can talk about scouting reports, but for the most part, the most important thing is us and if we’re improving.”If the Trojans continue to serve well, they can disrupt their opponents’ offenses and force them into predictable returns. They will also need to demonstrate the same fervor for digging tough shots that they did against Cal State Northridge.Paramount to that effort is freshman libero Henry Cassiday, who dug 13 shots in Wednesday’s game.“I think the most notable performance was by [Cassiday],” McKibbin said. “It was his first start, and he played really well. He’s really been working on his defense, and he passed really well. That’s one of our key success factors. If we can pass the ball, then we can run a really good offense.”First serve will be at the Galen Center at 7 p.m.
Football spring practice opened Tuesday afternoon, and the team’s focus is on improving everyday. Everyone had some first day kinks, but players said that it felt good to be back on the field.“It feels great,” senior wide receiver Darreus Rogers said. “I’m playing faster. This is probably the smoothest I’ve been since I’ve been here.”Junior wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster agreed but also mentioned the quick turnaround from hard workouts to full practice.“My legs are kind of tight and sore,” Smith-Schuster said. “Yesterday was our first day squatting, so then to come out here full speed running … but it feels good.”Coaching TurnaroundWith first-year head coach Clay Helton at the helm, a slue of new coaches has been added to the staff including his brother, quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton.“It was a great first day,” Tyson Helton said. “A lot of excitement, a lot of focus which is the way it should be. There’s a lot of talent out here, and I’m looking forward to working with them every day.”The coaches have been well-received by many players who are saying that they are totally on board with the new staff as well as their new implementations.“This coaching staff is amazing — they make me want to work hard and be perfect,” Rogers said.Offensive players said there was going to be a lot more action for the receivers on offense this year to create a more balanced offensive scheme.“We have new signals and plays, so we have to adjust to that,” sophomore tailback Ronald Jones II said. “The team likes the new plays and new systems. There are a lot more receiver sets because we don’t really have a fullback yet. It looks like we’re going to be a lot more balanced this year, which is good.”Quarterback FrenzyFour quarterbacks saw significant reps for the Trojans on day one including redshirt junior Max Browne, redshirt freshman Sam Darnold, redshirt sophomore Jalen Greene and true freshman Matt Fink. Tyson Helton said he was impressed with his quarterbacks for where they were at the beginning of the season.“Quarterbacks were about where you’d think for a first day; there’s a lot of things we need to correct but pretty good overall,” Helton said. “There were a couple jitters early, but once they got in the groove, I think they realized ‘Hey, this is just like anything I’ve always done.’”Browne and Darnold are expected to be the frontrunners in the quarterback competition, but Greene received a significant amount of reps during practice as well. Helton said he was specifically impressed with the play of Browne, Darnold and Greene.“They understand the plays and the mechanics of the plays, we just have to get better and better on the technique side of things,” Helton said. “The young freshman Matt Fink, it’s his first day out here, so limited reps, but we wanted him to have some success, so we put him in certain situations, and he took advantage of them.”Dealing with the different quarterbacks is a challenge for receivers according to Smith-Schuster, but he had nothing but praise for them after practice.“Max Browne has a cannon that we have to get used to,” Smith-Schuster said. “Sam Darnold has that accuracy, and Jalen Greene, who has that speed, but also throws with his left hand. Trying to catch from different quarterbacks is kind of hard, so I’m glad we’re doing it at the beginning of spring.”
The Ballymun Kickhams club man started at corner-back as the Dubs claimed a 0-12 to 0-9 victory over the Kingdom in difficult conditionsRe-plays showed the defender’s fingers around the eye area of the Kerry Captain during the win in yesterday’s All Ireland finalHowever McMahon says there wasn’t much to it.