Feb. 2, 1998
USC Men's Volleyball Visits Top-Ranked UCLA, UC Irvine
LOS ANGELES - The USC men's volleyball team (8-7 overall, 2-5 NCAA, 1-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) begins a five-match road trip this week with contests against rival UCLA on Wednesday (Feb. 4) at Pauley Pavilion at 7 p.m., then UC Irvine on Saturday (Feb. 7) at 7 p.m. The UCLA match will be broadcast live on the radio on KYPA-AM (1230). The young Trojans start three freshmen and have nine on the team.
RANKINGS - In the Jan. 27 USA Today/AVCA Coaches poll, USC is No. 16, UCLA is No. 1 and UC Irvine is No. 18. In the Feb. 2 Volleyball Magazine rankings, UCLA is No. 2 and USC and UC Irvine are unranked.
NOTES - This is the first season that USC has ever had three freshmen regularly start ... USC,s five-match losing streak, which ended with a win against UC San Diego last Saturday (Jan. 31), was its longest since 1995 ... USC has been at the wrong end of a 15-1 score twice already this season. Prior to that, the last time USC lost a game 15-1 was against the Israeli National Team in 1990, and the last time it happened against another NCAA team was against UC Santa Barbara in 1983.
OPPONENTS - This will be the home opener for UCLA (6-0, 3-0), which has lost only two games in six matches. Sophomore quick hitter Adam Naeve leads the Bruins with 112 kills, a 5.6 per game average. Sophomore setter Brandon Taliaferro is averaging 14.7 assists a game. Both were All-American second teamers a year ago. The Bruins hold a 67-28 lead in the all-time series and have won the last nine. UC Irvine (4-2, 1-2 ~ hosts UC San Diego on Tuesday, Feb. 3) has lost its last two after opening the season with four wins. Junior outside hitter Mike Rupp has a team-high 102 kills (5.4 a game). The Trojans have never lost to the Anteaters and are 22-0 against them.
LAST TWO MATCHES - The Trojans lost their fifth in a row in a 15-12, 15-4, 9-15, 1-15, 12-15 loss to San Diego State at the North Gym on Jan. 28. Freshman outside hitter Eli Fairfield had a career-high 23 kills and 13 digs and senior middle blocker Szilard Kovacs had 21 kills. After hitting better than .400 to win games one and two, USC,s hitting percentage declined sharply in the next three. The Trojans ended the losing streak with a 15-6, 15-8, 15-5 win over UC San Diego at the North Gym on Jan. 31. USC hit a season-high .563 as a team and was led by Kovacs- 16 kills and freshman outside hitter Ryan Thurlow's 14 kills.
COACH PAT POWERS - Legendary Olympic gold medalist, collegiate All-American and pro beach star Pat Powers returned in 1997 to his alma mater ~ which he led to the 1980 NCAA championship as a player - to become the USC men's volleyball head coach and help bring the Trojans back to national prominence. In 1997, his first season, Powers put USC back on track, with its first winning season since 1994 at 18-14. The 6-foot-5 Powers is regarded as one of the greatest players in international volleyball history. He was a member of the U.S. National Team for nine years (1978-86) and started at outside hitter on a squad that won America's first-ever "Triple Crown": the 1984 Olympics, the 1985 World Cup and the 1986 World Championships.
SZILARD KOVACS - One of the top middle blockers in the nation, senior Szilard Kovacs is USC's go-to player in 1998. The 6-foot-10 All-American candidate from Hungary just missed tying his career high with 22 kills against Cal State Northridge (Jan. 20). He followed that with 20 kills and a career-high 11 blocks against HawaiOEi (Jan. 23). He had 21 kills and hit .311 against San Diego State (Jan. 28). Kovacs had a match-high 16 kills and hit .520 in the win against UC San Diego (Jan. 31). He missed the Cal State San Bernardino match (Jan. 14) with the flu. Overall, Kovacs has a team-best 107 kills (4.7 a game) and is hitting .286. His hitting percentage is lower than his previous three seasons, but as the focal point of USC's attack, he's getting many more attempts (9.6 a game, compared to his three-year average of 4.5). Szilard led Troy in hitting in each of his first three seasons and ranked 15th nationally as a 1997 junior, hitting .420. His career high is 23 kills, set against Ohio State in 1997. He is Troy's tallest player ever.
DONALD SUXHO - The team captain as just a sophomore, 6-foot-5 setter Donald Suxho runs USC's offense and provides needed leadership to USC's freshmen. An All-American candidate, Donald is averaging 13.5 assists a game and has 350 this season with a high of 63 against both Cal State Northridge (Jan. 20) and San Diego State (Jan. 28). He also has a team-high 48 digs this season. Suxho had 1,585 assists as a 1997 freshman, including an NCAA single-match record 129 against Ohio State. The native of Albania ranked 11th nationally in assist average (17.04) and 16th nationally in dig average (2.37) in 1997.
MIDDLE BLOCKERS - Omar Rawi is the other starter alongside Szilard Kovacs, though two others are also vying for playing time. Rawi, a 6-foot-5 junior, started USC,s first seven matches. He has 48 kills, a team-high .301 hitting percentage and 27 blocks. He had a season-high 12 kills against Cal State San Bernardino (Jan. 14). Rawi played in 17 matches in 1997 and had 65 kills and 32 blocks. Trent Brown, a 6-foot-7 senior, saw a majority of the time at the position at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational and started the Cal State San Bernardino match in Kovacs absence. He has 14 kills in three matches. Brown appeared in eight matches in 1997 and had 26 kills and 14 blocks. * Tony Knopp (Cupertino, Monta Vista High), a 6-foot-7 freshman, will also be in the rotation. He has appeared in two matches in 1998.
OUTSIDE HITTERS - Freshmen have been starting at all three outside hitter positions while junior Brad Callahan recovers from ankle surgery: Eli Fairfield, Trevor Julian and Craig Dennis. * Fairfield (Valley Center, La Costa Canyon High) is 6-foot-6 and has 63 kills, second best on the team. His best match came against San Diego State (Jan. 28), when he had a career-high 23 kills and 13 digs along with a .381 hitting percentage. He had a team-high 15 kills against HawaiOEi (Jan. 24) following 17 kills against the Rainbows a day earlier. He missed the UC San Diego match (Jan. 31) because he was ill. * Julian (Encino, Harvard-Westlake High) is 6-foot-4 and has 62 kills, tied for third on the team. He had a season-high 14 kills against Cal State Northridge (Jan. 20).
Dennis (Fresno, Bullard High) is 6-foot-3 and has 62 kills, tied for third on the team. He had a season-high 16 kills against Cal State Northridge (Jan. 20).
Ryan Thurlow (Irvine, Capistrano Valley High), 6-foot-2 and another freshman outside hitter, has been one of the top reserves, appearing in five matches. He made his first collegiate start against UC San Diego (Jan. 31) when Fairfield was ill and had 14 kills and a .526 hitting percentage. * David Grimm, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, has played in two matches.
BRYANT EDWARDS - Defensive specialist Bryant Edwards, a 5-foot-11 senior, provides a lift from off the bench. He has one dig this season and 70 in his career. His father was a goalie for the Los Angeles Kings.
FRESHMEN - USC welcomed nine freshmen to the program, six of whom earned notice on the prestigious Volleyball Fab 50 list. Besides the previously mentioned Knopp, Julian, Dennis, Fairfield and Thurlow, there,s also 6-foot-3 setter Caleb Anderson (Claremont, Claremont High), 6-foot-5 middle blocker Ryan Hill (Encino, Crespi High) and 6-foot-4 outside hitter/middle blocker Conor Frickman (Encinitas, La Costa Canyon High). Of this group, only Anderson has seen playing time so far. A ninth freshman, Stephen Miksis (Rolling Hills, Peninsula High), will not play this year due to an arm injury.# # #