2005 USC Men's Volleyball Preview
Jan. 11, 2005
There are a couple of good reasons why third-year USC head coach Turhan Douglas is looking forward to the 2005 men's volleyball campaign.
First of all, 11 Trojan lettermen from 2004, including all six starters, return this season. But several of Troy's six new freshmen figure to break into the 2005 starting lineup, a sign that USC is a more talented and much deeper team than in recent years.
Secondly, Douglas is anxious to erase some recent bad memories. The Trojan program--which has won 4 NCAA titles while finishing second six times and third once--has hit a speed bump lately. USC won just six matches each of the past three years and hasn't been to the NCAA Final Four since 1991.
In 2004, Troy was 6-23 overall and finished tied for 11th in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings at 4-18. But there were some encouraging moments. USC posted wins over defending NCAA champion Lewis and then No. 6-ranked Cal State Northridge. The Trojans even held 2-0 leads in four matches (including against eventual NCAA champ BYU and Pepperdine, ranked first and sixth at the time) but couldn't pull out victories.
"Although we've had a couple difficult seasons, we've improved steadily each year," said Douglas. "This year, with all our new young talent, I believe we'll improve quite a bit. And we'll have a lot of depth, which we haven't had lately.
"This is a veteran team, but we'll rely heavily on our younger players. We might start four underclassmen. I like how our veterans have matured and stepped up into great leaders. Our seniors are determined to do well this season. In turn, that's helped the younger players step up their game."
Although 6-7 senior J.T. Gilmour was the starting setter in 2004 (he had 973 assists, 53 blocks and 92 digs), it appears a freshman will handle the position this year: 6-4 Jimmy Killian, whose father, brother, sister and uncle all played at USC. Killian, the MVP of three of the past four Junior Olympics, arguably was the nation's top recruit last year out of Loyola High in Los Angeles (Calif.).
Gio Altamura, a 6-0 sophomore who saw action in 20 matches last spring (he also was a Junior Olympics MVP), is also available to set.
"J.T. is a terrific leader and has come a long way skill-wise," said Douglas. "He's a huge blocking presence and a good defender. He'll be an important player for us in 2005. Jimmy is the future of USC men's volleyball. He was the nation's top high school player last year and he's proven why in the pre-season. He's such a well-rounded, complete setter. He has terrific location, he's very smart and he knows how to lead. Gio's strength is his ability to side out and he also is a very good leader. He'll get some time this year."
Do-it-all 6-0 junior Joao Grangeiro, who has started all 60 matches in his Trojan career, should be USC's libero (he played there the first half of 2003). But he is also available at outside hitter, where he started the past season-and-a-half. Last year, he had a team-best 235 digs and 37 aces, plus 299 kills and 40 blocks.
Junior Evan Burden, at 5-10, is the other libero. He started there the past year-and-a-half (he had 169 digs in 2004).
"Pound for pound, Joao is the best player in the country," said Douglas. "He's a phenomenal defensive player and an outstanding passer. He's invaluable to our team because of his versatility. Evan is one of the best passers in the MPSF. He has improved dramatically and also become a leader."
Blake Tippett, a 6-4 senior, returns as a starter in 2005, but he'll battle all year through a shoulder injury. He'll be at outside hitter this season after playing opposite hitter last spring when he posted a team-best 380 kills, 146 digs, 36 blocks and 20 aces.
"Despite his shoulder problem, Blake could have a great year," said Douglas. "He'll play through it. He's a leader who plays hard every day. He's a key player for us."
The other outside hitter should be 6-2 freshman Juan Figueroa from Bayamon Military Academy in Puerto Rico. He was a member of the Puerto Rican Junior National Team and was a two-time All-American at the Junior Olympics.
Also available at outside hitter are 6-3 sophomore Fernando Barron, who saw action in 12 matches in 2004, and 6-5 redshirt freshman Matt Anderson. Sean O'Connor, a 6-5 freshman who was a 2004 All-CIF San Diego honoree at La Costa Canyon High in Carlsbad (Calif.), will redshirt in 2005.
The Trojans could get a boost if 5-10 senior Pedro Leal recovers from off-season kneecap surgery (he could be ready in February). He started on the outside in 2004, getting 191 kills, 95 digs and 24 aces.
"Juan is one of the most gifted athletes in collegiate volleyball," said Douglas. "He's a phenomenal hitter and a very dynamic player. He's fun to watch because of how high he jumps. I'm looking for great things from him. Fernando also is a terrific athlete and jumper. He'll play a big part in our success this year and, over time, he can be a great player. Matt has come a long way and continues to get better. He's a terrific hitter with a tough jump serve. Sean is a developing player who, once he gets a bit bigger and stronger, will be a good one for us. And if Pedro comes back healthy, he has an opportunity to step back into the mix and help us."
Chris McKniff, a 6-10 senior who has 48 career starts (including all of 2004), will start again at middle blocker. He hit a team-best .328 in 2004 with 241 kills. He also had a team-high 113 blocks.
"Chris is a veteran and just a top-quality person," said Douglas. "We're looking for him to produce big numbers for us. He's one of the nation's better middle blockers and he just keeps improving."
The other middle could will be 6-8 freshman Andrew Vernon, a 2004 All-State pick out of Joliet (Ill.) Township West High who was a member of the 2003 U.S. Youth National Team.
Also available in the middle are 6-9 junior Danny Newman, who saw action in two matches last spring after missing the previous two seasons with a knee injury, and 6-6 freshman Chris Jones, a two-time All-State selection from Washington Park High in Racine (Wis.) who was on the 2004 U.S. Junior National Team.
Jeff Bailey, a 6-8 senior middle blocker who started last year (he hit .295 with 199 kills and 64 blocks), will redshirt in 2005 to concentrate on his academics.
"Andrew is one of the most talented young middles I've seen in years," said Douglas. "He still needs some work, but he's a fast learner. He should be a key contributor for us. Danny is very determined to get on the court and he has a chance to do that after having a great pre-season. He's much improved. Chris is one of the hardest-working players I've ever seen. He's quiet, but let's his play do the talking. We'll be without Jeff this year as he focuses on school and we'll miss him, but he'll be back in 2006."
Matt Mosko, a physical 6-7 sophomore, was moved from middle blocker to opposite hitter this year and will start. He saw action in 15 matches last spring. Jake Lewis, a 6-5 freshman who was an All-State player at Brophy College Prep in Paradise Valley (Ariz.), will be Mosko's backup.
"Matt has improved tremendously in a short time," said Douglas. "With his size and athleticism, he's perfect for us at opposite hitter. That's why we moved him there. Jake continues to get better each day. If he keeps working hard, he has a chance to help us."