Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor
Three years ago, USC freshman middle blocker Andy Benesh decided it was time to quit basketball and focus on a new sport, so he narrowed his options down to two: volleyball and sailing. Luckily for the Trojans, sailing was the more expensive option so Benesh chose volleyball and proceeded to grow about eight inches which definitely helped the cause. Now, the freshman leads the nation in hitting percentage and is on pace to break the USC season record.
"A lot of footwork transitions over to volleyball so I think that's why I had such a good start to the game," said the freshman. "I've been really lucky to grow up through the club system and get where I am now. It's been a really fun season so far."
Benesh has immediately made an impact on this dynamic Trojan team as he was named the Off the Block Co-National Freshman of the Week after strong performances against UC Irvine and Pepperdine at the beginning of the season. The freshman brings something new to the middle blocker position as he hits to the left side of the court whereas most middles hit to the right, something he says has helped him out tremendously.
"I think it's an advantage playing this much as a freshman," said Benesh. "Most people don't know us too well so they don't already know all our tricks in the book."
Currently, the freshman is tied with fellow freshman Lucas Yoder in sets played (60) as well as matches started. He leads the Trojans and the rest of the nation with a hitting percentage of .507. The Trojans also lead the nation as a team in assists per set (13.35) and kills per set (14.15).
"Our passing has been great all season so that's really contributed to me playing so well." said Benesh. "We have Micah [Christenson] who's insane and then we have Lucas who I'm sure will be fun to play with for the next four years."
Benesh plays alongside fellow stud freshman Lucas Yoder as the two are the only freshman starters. This is not the first time the two have played on the same court, however, as they both were members of the 2012 USA Youth National Training team. "We roomed a couple of summers ago in San Diego," said Benesh speaking of his friend and fellow freshman teammate. "He really has stepped up this year. He's playing insane. It definitely takes a lot of focus off of me since I'm not the only one out there. There's not as much pressure."
The freshmen certainly don't play like there's any pressure on them as the two are the team leaders in kills with Yoder leading the team with 232 kills and Benesh following him with 125. "The pace of the game is insane. It's so much faster and the serving is so much tougher. Anybody can beat anybody in this league. You have to come out every night and just be dialed in or else you'll get dumped on," said the mature freshman middle blocker.
Even though he's just a freshman, Benesh ensures that there's no hierarchy amongst the team. He emphasized how welcoming everyone and even the fifth-year seniors have been in helping the freshmen transition to the big leagues. Though the gangly freshman may not have dreamed of this opportunity growing up, the former baseball and basketball star has turned into a dynamic and powerful volleyball player for the Trojans.
"It means the world to me," said Benesh speaking about playing at USC. "It's kind of cliche when people talk about the Trojan Family but that's really what we are. We're a family. I hang out with these guys at least four hours a day and I truly feel like they're my actual family."
Make sure to check out this freshman stud and the rest of the Trojans as they enter a big weekend with matches against Pacific (Friday at 7:00pm) and Stanford (Sunday at 5:00pm).