Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor
Tanner Jansen has become one of the most dominating hitters for the men's volleyball team this season. The redshirt junior leads the team with 121 kills and also has 40 digs through nine games in 2013.
The Trojans have struggled throughout the beginning of this season and have a 3-6 record, an uncharacteristic scenario for a team which has built a storied tradition of success in recent history. USC has won four NCAA championships, with 14 NCAA Final Four appearances, and three trips to the Final Four in the last four years (including last season's loss to UC Irvine in the National Championship).
Interestingly, Coach Bill Ferguson predicted this struggle before the season started. In his preseason outlook he said, "I expect that there will be a learning curve in the first third of the season, then we'll solidify our play in the middle third and have the potential to take off in the final third."
Another factor he predicted accurately was the significant increase in the role junior Tanner Jansen would play this year.
Jansen's contribution through the first nine games has been phenomenal. He leads the team with 121 kills and is second on the team with 40 digs.
The opposite hitter has been a solid player for the Trojans throughout his career, but after the departure of National Player of the Year Tony Ciarelli and All-American Steven Shandrick, the team needed someone to step up and fill the void.
"I think them leaving has definitely contributed to me stepping up this year. I've just tried to show these young guys that I still go out there and work hard every day. Some of the younger guys have really stepped up too. Micah [Christenson] has definitely taken a leadership role," said Jansen.
In the Trojans' loss to Cal State Northridge, Jansen had a career best 24 kills. He has had 10 or more kills in six games this season, but four of those games were losses. When asked if it was hard to manage individual success paralleling team struggles, Jansen emphasized that the interests of the team are always more important than his own statistics.
"It can be hard to manage just when you know you're giving your all and we still lose. But I'm not focused on my individual statistics or success. I'm focused on our team."
The junior says he has seen glimpses of the potential that lies in this year's squad. "I think our two big victories, against Stanford and UCI, really were where all the pieces came together. Those games looked like the team we are supposed to be."
He also thinks tonight could be the turning point for the rest of the season. "I think this could definitely be a momentum changer for us. We have started to see things fall into place and the game (against UCLA) would be a good opportunity for us to turn it around for the season."
The Trojans have been victorious in six of the last seven meetings with the Bruins. They are a slight underdog in tonight's game, ranked #10 to UCLA's #7 ranking. However, Jansen feels they are prepared.
"This rivalry has meant a lot to me while I've been here. I think we are definitely ready to meet the challenge. We try to treat it as just another game, we prepare the way we would for any other match. But in the back of our minds, we know it's UCLA and it's a rivalry."
USC faces off against UCLA at 8 P.M. tonight at the Galen Center.