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2022 USC Men's Volleyball Outlook: Trojans Bring Back Experienced Roster

Jan 3, 2022

An analysis of the USC men's volleyball team's prospects for the 2022 season can be done from two perspectives.

The good news:  this Trojan team is deep, as it returns 15 players from last year's roster, including starters at 3 positions and the libero, and it welcomes 7 talented newcomers, including a veteran all-league first team transfer.  The not-as-good news:  3 of its best players from last year are gone and the bulk of USC's 2022 squad played on a team that last spring managed to win just 5 of 18 matches while facing a slate that featured only opponents from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation due to pandemic scheduling guidelines.

Seventh-year USC head coach Jeff Nygaard believes any preview of his 2022 team should be viewed from a good news lens because of the depth of returnees and the addition of the new Trojans.  His players, in fact, have started a combined 198 matches at USC going back to 2018 (including during the 2019 season when Troy was in the NCAA tourney) and the transfer has 39 career starts.  Twelve of USC's 15 returning players saw action in 2021 (as did the collegiate transfer) and 2 others played in previous seasons.  Among the wins the Trojans posted in 2021 were a season-opening road victory at UCLA and a 3-match home sweep over Stanford.

Further, unlike last season when USC played without the benefit of much of a fall season due to COVID-19 protocols and therefore had a limited training base, the 2022 Trojans have had an uninterrupted and productive pre-season to prepare for an upcoming schedule that features a wide variety of opponents from near and far.

"This team has outstanding experience, leadership and depth, and the players have embraced the challenge of being far more physical this season," said Nygaard.  "They also are prepared to battle every day to sharpen their competitor's mindset and preparedness.  The coaches firmly believe in this team's ability to succeed."

Gone from last season are opposite hitter Billy Fauntleroy, who earned All-MPSF second team honors while leading USC in kills (271) and aces (13) and also posting 82 digs, 27 blocks and a .255 hitting percentage as an 18-match starter (he had an MPSF-high 31 kills versus Grand Canyon), middle blocker Vecas Lewin, who topped Troy with 41 blocks and also hit .422 with 97 kills while starting all year, and outside hitter Clay Dickinson, who started USC's final 11 matches in 2021 and posted 114 kills (hitting .232), 39 digs and 25 blocks.  Also gone are middle blocker Danny Sutton Farrell and outside hitter Noah Franklin, both occasional starters in 2021, and backup middle blocker Max Beck.

Headlining the returning starters are a pair of senior 4-year starters in 6-2 setter Chris Hall and 5-11 libero Cole Paxson.  Hall has 2,471 career assists and 62 starts.  Last spring, he led USC in assists (678) and was second in digs (127) and third in aces (9).  Paxson has 428 assists in a career with 55 starts.  He led USC with 141 digs last year, including an MPSF season-high 19 versus Grand Canyon (2 shy of USC's rally scoring era record).  Hall and Paxson led the MPSF in assist average (10.43) and dig average (2.17) last year, respectively.

"Chris runs a great offensive system and controls his area defensively, and he competes daily at a high level," said Nygaard.  "He has grown his game tremendously.  Cole has a wealth of experience like Chris, and is one of the top defenders in the MPSF.  He is a team leader and has high expectations for his performance this season."

Senior Brandon Browning, at 6-4, started the past 2 seasons at outside hitter.  He had 173 kills (second on USC) while hitting .266 in 2021, plus he had a team-best 13 aces along with 28 blocks and 74 digs.  His .917 hitting percentage versus Stanford tied the USC rally scoring era record.

"Brandon brings a ton of game experience to our team," said Nygaard.  "He is a consistent performer and works hard to continually improve.  He will be a leader for us this year."

Two of the three players who manned a middle blocker spot last spring are back:  6-8 senior Liam Schroeder and junior Lucas Frassrand (6-6).  Schroeder hit a team-best .511 in 5 starts last year with 25 kills and 7 blocks, while Frassrand had 33 blocks and 42 kills (hitting .321) with 8 starts in 2021 despite being slowed by injuries.

"Liam embodies the qualities of an ideal Trojan," said Nygaard.  "He is a strong player with a team-first mindset and is a team leader.  Lucas is an experienced, explosive attacker who creates a ton of chaos for opposing blockers with the speed of his jump and arm."

Looking to move into an open outside hitter spot is 6-3 UCLA graduate transfer Sam Kobrine, who can also play opposite hitter and setter.  He earned All-MPSF first team and All-American honorable mention acclaim in 2021 while starting all 21 of the Bruins' matches at setter, getting team highs in assists (827) and digs (136).  In his Bruin career (with 39 starts), he had 220 kills, 997 assists, 253 digs, 72 blocks and 33 aces.  He started on the outside as a 2019 sophomore.

"Sam brings a track record of successful volleyball to our team, but he also has a vision for greater success," said Nygaard.  "His range of performance and experience will be a huge boost to our team."

Other outsides competing for playing time are 6-3 junior Adam Flood, who has 134 kills (hitting .254), 61 digs, 18 blocks and 13 aces in his career with 15 starts (including 3 times in 2021, when he had 28 kills), sophomores Kyle Paulson (6-8), who came off the bench in 17 matches last season as a setter, 6-1 Jackson Reed, who saw time off the bench at outside hitter, serving specialist and defensive specialist in 14 matches last season, 6-8 Jack Deuchar (he saw brief action in 2 matches last year), 6-7 Peter Brown (he played in 1 match in 2021) and 6-8 Simon Gallas, who opted out of the 2021 season because of the pandemic and remained in his native Germany.  Then there is 6-4 freshman Noah Keelin out of San Clemente (Calif.) High, who spent the past 2 years with the USA Boys National Training Teams, and 6-9 Luke Hobus of Palos Verdes High in Palos Verdes Estates (Calif.).  Paulson, Gallas and Hobus will work at opposite hitter.

"Adam is a highly-dependable performer who gives our team a lift whenever he steps onto the court," said Nygaard.  "Kyle has a varied skill set that makes him capable of competing at several positions.  Jackson is an explosive, driven player with a love of volleyball and high expectations for himself.  Jack is a big outside with a high volleyball IQ and a drive to keep getting better.  Peter keeps improving and is one of our better hitters out of a fast system.  Simon showed flashes in 2020 that he could be a force as a blocker, server and attacker, and although he wasn't with us last season he still was able to train, get stronger and improve his game.  Noah comes with good youth-level experience and a big presence on the outside and is working hard to grow his game.  Luke is a big, physical presence and he is driven to be a top player."

Competing for a starting job at middle blocker is 6-7 redshirt freshman Christian Thomas, along with two freshmen who also will battle for time in the middle:  6-7 Markus Olsson of Homestead High in Cupertino (Calif.), who like Keelin was on the USA Boys National Training Teams the last 2 years, and 6-7 Teddy Terrill, who was a 2021 prep All-American first teamer at Loyola High in Los Angeles (Calif.).  

"Christian can go on dominant blocking and attacking runs, he reads the game well and makes solid, quick decisions;  as he gains in physicality, his impact will grow," said Nygaard.  "Markus is a high-potential young player who is a strong blocker.  Teddy is a fierce competitor who continues to grow into a top tier blocker."

Available at setter are 6-3 junior Jameson McKibbin, whose brothers, uncle and aunt played at USC, and 6-4 sophomore Nate Tennant, who transferred to USC in the fall from Moorpark (Calif.) Junior College.  McKibbin, who did not play in 2021, has appeared in 37 matches at USC (6 starts) at setter and as a serving specialist and has notched 255 assists, 27 digs, 10 aces and 7 blocks.  

"Jameson is a very passionate, team-orientated and hard-working player who brings his best every day," said Nygaard.  "Nate gained good experience at the junior college level and will give us quality depth at setter."

The libero corps includes 6-3 junior George Dyer, who has 21 match appearances in his career with 10 digs (including 10 matches in 2021) and 6-2 sophomore Gus Accord, who played in 11 matches last spring (with 5 digs), as well as 6-0 freshman Austin Stuard, who earned 2021 All-CIF Division 1 honors at Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach (Calif.).  Stuard also was a member of the USA Boys National Training Teams the past 2 seasons.

"George loves the game and has a broad range of talents," said Nygaard.  "Gus is a bright player with a strong work ethic and has shown tremendous growth.  Austin has a winning mindset and we are excited to see him develop."

Nygaard will be aided by assistant coach Gary Sato, back for his seventh season at Troy, and Rory Prager, in his third year.

Besides its 12-match schedule against MPSF opponents, the Trojans will face such non-conference foes as the Big West's UC Irvine, Long Beach State, Cal State Northridge and UC San Diego along with George Mason, Princeton, Erskine, Vanguard and Menlo College.  USC will open its season at the UCSB Asics Invitational and also participate in the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge (versus Penn State and Ohio State).

The USC men's volleyball program has won 6 national championships, played in 15 NCAA tourneys and produced 21 Olympians, 34 All-American first teamers and 7 College Players of the Year.