Packing Heavy

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No. 8 USC men's volleyball will be taking a little extra hardware on its road to Utah, where the Trojans play BYU in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday, thanks to junior setter Micah Christenson, who made All-MPSF First Team, and Lucas Yoder, who was named the conference's Freshman of the Year.

Click here for the complete story.

Yoder also made the All-MPSF Second Team along with senior libero Henry Cassiday, and he is joined on the All-Freshman Team by Andy Benesh. Yoder and Benesh were also named to the Off The Block Freshman All-American team.

Christenson, who was the starting setter last summer for the U.S. Men's National Team, currently leads the nation in assists (11.69) and is 14th in digs (2.36, fifth in the MPSF). He tops USC in assists (1,017) and aces (25). He is a finalist for the Off The Block Lloy Ball Award presented to the nation's top collegiate setter.

Christenson (left) to Yoder (right) is USC's winning combination.

Spring Breakout: Zach Banner, OL

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Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor

There is plenty to be excited about in the upcoming year of USC football, and with spring ball underway the Trojans are discovering new and improved talent all across the field. Whether new to the roster or finally positioned for a starting role, this year's spring breakouts are ready to make a difference. 

Banner-Camp9-McG.jpgName: Zach Banner
Year: Redshirt Sophomore
Position: Offensive Line

The Past: Banner's size has always been an area of concern and intrigue given his 6-foot-9, 345-pound frame. He was recruited heavily out of high school earning honors like ESPNU 150, All-American first team, USA Today All-USA first team, just to name a select few. Banner redshirted his freshman season, but then in 2013, the lineman served as the back-up offensive tackle seeing time in early season games against Hawaii and Boston College. Then, Banner spent the rest of the 2013 season sidelined with an injury when he discovered that he had a hip condition called FAI that would require surgery on both of his hips due to their abnormal shape.

The Present: It's been a long road to recovery for Banner as the two hip surgeries sidelined him for roughly five months. He's been working on regaining his strength but more importantly, Banner has devoted his full attention to working hard enough to earn a starting spot on an offensive line that has a lot of gaps to fill. Banner's transformation has been evident this spring from a big guy who showed a lot of potential, but struggled with execution, to a starting tackle candidate ready to contribute. 

The Future: Banner still has a ways to go before he can establish himself as an elite offensive lineman but the strides he has made this spring have created excitement for a potential breakout season come fall. The 6-foot-9 offensive lineman must continue to improve his flexibility at the waist and in the knees in order to gain maximum leverage against opposing pass rushers. It's imperative that he masters the proper techniques since his size prevents him from moving the way smaller linemen do. Though he is physically healthy, he is not where he wants to be in terms of strength. Banner also just needs the game experience to boost his confidence, so he can put his hard work to the test, something he should get the opportunity to do come fall. 

Sark on Banner: "He is a big man who is hard to run around, 6-foot-whatever he is, 350 some odd pounds. A lot of his future will center around his confidence continuing to grow. He's a very bright guy. He's physically gifted enough, it's just a matter of getting him knowing that he is capable of doing it. I think he's been showing that, especially in the past couple of days."

Here is Banner with our Caroline Deisley...

Lucha Por

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Roberto Quiroz does not know how to translate Fight On into his native tongue.  The Ecuadorian went with "lucha por" in his Pac-12 Networks appearance on "Statisfaction", although Google prefers "seguir luchando" or "lucha en". 

Either way, Quiroz gets the concept of Fight On as much as anyone.  He is a long way from home battling with his Trojan Family for another men's tennis national championship.

USC's next big test comes Friday at 10:30 a.m. (singles starts at Noon) at Marks Stadium.  Here is Quiroz's bilingual preview of the dual match on Pac-12 Networks:

Photo Gallery: WWP Senior Day

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USC women's water polo celebrated its national championship-winning senior class Wednesday recognizing a decorated group featuring Flora Bolonyai, Kaleigh Gilchrist, Kelly Mendoza, Colleen O'Donnell, Olivia Cummins and Madeline Rosenthal.

The Women of Troy were unable to defeat UCLA dropping a physical 6-4 conference regular season finale, but they will likely see their rivals again in the MPSF and/or NCAA Championships, which will both be held at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

Here are the John McGillen photos from yesterday's rivalry clash:

wpolo v UCLA Gallery - Images by John McGillen

Wesley to Transfer

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USC men's basketball leading scorer Byron Wesley announced via Twitter that he will graduate this summer and transfer to another school for his final year of eligibility.

Head coach Andy Enfield: "We wish Byron well and we thank him for his valuable contributions to our program.  We are happy for him that he will leave USC with his degree.  He had a very productive career here and I am sure he will do well wherever his career takes him."

Here is Wesley's announcement in four Tweets:

Spring Breakout: Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, TE

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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

There is plenty to be excited about in the upcoming year of USC football, and with spring ball underway the Trojans are discovering new and improved talent all across the field. Whether new to the roster or finally positioned for a starting role, this year's spring breakouts are ready to make a difference.

Cope-Fitz-WSU-McG.jpgName: Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick

Year: Junior

Position: Tight End

The Past: In his first two seasons, Cope-Fitzpatrick has only recorded three catches for 16 yards, getting the majority of his playing time for the Trojans on special teams. His lack of activity has not been due to his playing capabilities however, as he has waited in line behind two of the top tight end talents in the conference, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. Additionally, the tight end position was not utilized to its full potential in recent seasons. With that being said, Cope-Fitzpatrick said he made the most of his time the past two years learning from both Grimble and Telfer what he describes as a "warrior's mentality". 

The Present: With the Spring Game quickly approaching, it's easy to see that the junior tight end made the most of spring workouts. Xavier Grimble is headed to the NFL and redshirt senior Randall Telfer has missed all of spring due to injury which has presented an open stage for Cope-Fitzpatrick to show his play-making ability. Head coach Steve Sarkisian has continually praised Cope-Fitzpatrick over the course of the past six weeks, noting specifically his athleticism and ball skills. At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, he is one of the main Trojans to have taken full advantage of strength coach Ivan Lewis' offseason workouts.  

The Future: After two seasons of waiting in the wings, Cope-Fitzpatrick is looking to step up in 2014 as a major contributor for the Trojan offense. The fall is setting up to be the perfect crossroads of preparation and opportunity for the tight end who will have a large platform in Sarkisian's new offense to put his talent on tape. Cope-Fitzpatrick has been dreaming of scoring his first touchdown in the Coliseum and as the new uptempo system aims to utilize tight ends with greater frequency, it seems like that dream will become a reality very soon.

Sark on Cope-Fitzpatrick: "In this system, we love to utilize the tight end. Jalen has really focused himself on trying to come out and have a good spring."

Here is Cope-Fitzpatrick with our Sarah Bergstrom...

Gauntlet Update: Epic Showdowns

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USC and UCLA will square off three times this week with more on the line than just city pride.  The Trojans and Bruins will battle in women's water polo, men's tennis and women's tennis, and all six teams are ranked in the Top 12.

Crosstown Gauntlet standings: UCLA 47.5, USC 37.5

Here is the schedule of showdowns this week:

No. 2 UCLA at No. 3 USC women's water polo - Uytengsu Aquatics Center today at 5 p.m.
  • The match will be carried LIVE on Pac-12 Networks.
  • The Women of Troy defeated UCLA 7-6 in overtime to win the UCI Invitational on February 23 in the only meeting so far this season.
  • USC is looking for its fifth straight win over UCLA.

No. 5 UCLA at No. 3 USC men's tennis - Marks Stadium Friday at 10:30 a.m.

  • The dual match will be carried LIVE on Pac-12 Networks starting with singles play at Noon.
  • USC and UCLA are both undefeated in Pac-12 play, so Friday's winner will be declared the outright conference regular season champion.
  • The Trojans and Bruins have split the season series to date. USC won 4-3 at the ITA National Team Indoors, while UCLA controlled the match in Westwood (5-2).

No. 12 USC women's tennis at No. 2 UCLA - Westwood Friday at 12:30 p.m.

  • The dual match will be carried LIVE on Pac-12 Networks starting with singles play at 2 p.m.
  • The Bruins have taken both meetings this season sweeping the Trojans at the ITA National Indoors and winning 5-2 at Marks Stadium in March.
  • This is the regular season finale for the Women of Troy.


NCAA Amends Meal Plan

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The NCAA Legislative Council approved several changes Tuesday most notably amending the rule on feeding student-athletes to allow for unlimited meals and snacks for scholarship and non-scholarship participants.  Previously, walk-ons were not allowed to be provided food by the athletic department and scholarship athletes were limited to three meals a day or a food stipend.

Click here for more.

USC athletic director Pat Haden has been passionate about this issue since taking the job and talking to student-athletes who complained about being left hungry.  He also tweeted out his excitement about walk-ons being included in team meals as they play an invaluable role on any college team.

Trojan Wedding

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Former USC women's basketball star Briana Gilbreath and wide receiver Brice Butler made the Trojan Family official last weekend at a wedding ceremony in Texas.

Gilbreath currently plays in the WNBA for the Phoenix Mercury, while Butler, who transferred from USC to San Diego State, is on the Oakland Raiders. They met going into their freshman year at Troy as part of the "bridge program" and then started dating in 2009.

Click here for their story.

Briana's sister Stefanie, who also played for the Women of Troy, tweeted out the first photo of the Butler's.

2014 Spring Practice #13: Notes

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USC head coach Steve Sarkisian ended practice by breaking the biggest news of spring.
  • "If we were starting a game Saturday, Cody would be our starting quarterback," announced Sarkisian. "I think he's deserved it. I think he's earned it. I think he's performed well."
  • _MCG0117_CodyKessler_041514.jpgSarkisian said that Kessler's "experience" and "quick decision-making" tilted the decision in his favor. "I think we can win a lot of football games with Cody Kessler as our quarterback," said Sarkisian. "I'm proud of him."
  • While Kessler is officially the starting quarterback, Sarkisian stressed that the competition will "wage on", and he sees Max Browne as a future "star" and Jalen Greene "is going to be a great player."
  • Kessler took the news in stride showing the confidence of a QB with 10 wins already under his belt, and the drive to achieve much more than winning the job.  "Obviously, I was very excited. It's another big opportunity for me," he described his reaction to the news. "At the same time, I can't thank Max [Browne] and Jalen [Greene] enough for pushing me. It's not over. This is 'SC. It's always a competition every day."
  • Sarkisian met with all three quarterbacks before practice to break the news and point toward the season. "He is excited about the future and what I am doing. Obviously, the message was negative, but his attitude was positive," said redshirt freshman Max Browne. 
  • In regards to Browne, Sarkisian drew the parallel to the great quarterbacks of the recent past who had to wait their turn like Matt Leinart behind Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez behind John David Booty.  "That was the thing I took away from the meeting the most. At the end of the day, they were all successful here," said Browne. "You never know when your shot is going to be. When you get it, make the most of it."
  • Kessler has the luxury of entering the summer as the undisputed leader of the offense. "I'm going to take that leadership role upon myself, and at the same time, continue to make myself better," he said. 
  • Individually, Kessler is focused on "being a general of this offense" and "every little detail" from play recognition to throwing accuracy.  He had his best practice of the spring today, according to Sarkisian.
  • Browne's goal is "staying consistent and bringing it all together" after showing flashes of brilliance this spring.  He has no intention to transfer saying, "I'm staying put. I'm here for good."
  • While the news is exciting for Kessler, he is not getting ahead of himself. "The season is a long way away. I'm worrying about Thursday," he said.
  • Here is Sarkisian's post-practice press conference almost entirely explaining his quarterback decision: