2004 USC Men's Volleyball Outlook
Jan. 12, 2004
In what might be the 2004 USC men's volleyball team's version of "Extreme Makeover," more than half of the players on the 18-man roster are new.
After Troy suffered through 6-win seasons each of the past two campaigns, second-year USC head coach Turhan Douglas brought in 10 new players to bolster the corps of returnees.
He's hoping this infusion of talent will pay quick dividends. Already, he has seen enough from his young team (just one senior) to give him optimism.
"In all my years of coaching volleyball, I've never seen a team improve as fast as this one has from the fall season until the spring," said Douglas. "That's mainly been due to the players' commitment and attitude."
Last year, USC went 6-25 overall (2-20 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation for an 11th place finish), setting a school record for losses in a season, but there was marked improvement in team spirit and morale from the previous year. And, among the wins were back-to-back upsets over eventual NCAA champion Lewis, ranked No. 4 at the time, and then-No. 6 Cal State Northridge.
But for the second year in a row, the Trojans failed to make the MSPF Tournament.
So, Douglas has a simple goal in 2004 as he attempts to return USC to national prominence (the Trojans have won four NCAA championships, finished second six times and third once, but they haven't been to the Final Four since 1991).
"Our goal is to make the MPSF playoffs," he said. "I believe at the rate we've been making progress, we'll meet that goal.
"We're a young, gifted team. We're not as tall as we've been in the past, but we're a more skilled team. Volleyball is about ball control and we're good at that. I know we'll be better than last year."
Among the players Douglas must replace is a trio of 3-year starters, outside hitter Mark Dusharme, middle blocker Josh Day and setter Miles McGannand a trio of part-time starters in middle blocker Phil Small and outside hitters Derek Otte and Peter Jordan.
USC's top returnee in 2004 is 6-2 sophomore outside hitter/libero Joao Grangeiro of Brazil. An All-MPSF second teamer last spring, he began that year as Troy's libero, then moved to outside hitter by midseason (where he'll start in 2004). Overall, he posted 170 kills, 299 digs (2 shy of the Trojan season record), 27 blocks and 13 aces. He was third nationally in dig average (2.56).
"Joao, pound for pound, is the best player in the country," said Douglas. "His ability to lead with both his actions and words will really help us this year. After we switched him from libero to outside hitter, he proved to be our top outside, even at his size."
Two experienced juniors figure to start at the middle blocker spots: 6-10 Chris McKniff and 6-8 Jeff Bailey. McKniff had 82 kills (hitting .335) and 51 digs last year, while Bailey had 52 kills and 23 blocks. McKniff has 19 career starts (including 14 in 2003) and Bailey has started 6 times.
"Chris has really improved as a blocker," said Douglas. "We're looking for him to take a leadership role in controlling the net. Jeff has a real solid all-around game. He also has a tough serve and plays good defense, and most middles don't excel in both of those areas."
Another tested junior, 6-4 Blake Tippett, should start at outside hitter. A 7-match starter in his career, he had 64 kills and 34 digs last year.
"Blake has emerged as a strong outside hitter," said Douglas. "He has matured both physically and emotionally. He possesses a tough jump serve and his ability to pass will help us."
USC's lone senior, 6-6 Ian Gallagher, is the team's top opposite hitter and could be in the lineup if he's healthy (he has been bothered by shoulder and knee injuries throughout his career). He had 272 kills, 104 digs, 69 blocks and 17 aces last year while starting 27 matches, first at outside hitter before moving to opposite by midseason (he has 50 career starts).
"Ian is our most physical player," said Douglas. "He is extremely athletic. He has battled a lot of nagging shoulder and knee problems, but we hope he's on the court a lot for us. When he's healthy, he presents problems for the opponent."
A pair of high-potential players will compete for the starting job at setter: 6-7 junior J.T. Gilmour and 6-0 redshirt freshman Gio Altamura. Gilmour has started 13 times in his career (including 11 matches in 2002), while Altamura transferred from Ohio State after a stellar career at powerhouse Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach (Calif.), the 2001 national prep champion.
"It's a very close race for the starting setter job," said Douglas. "J.T. has developed quite a bit and is starting to become a dominant blocker. Plus, he's a team leader. Gio has been a pleasant surprise. We all underestimated him because of his height, but he plays big. He's a very mature setter, a strong leader and he plays with a lot of heart."
Evan Burden, a 5-10 sophomore, returns as USC's libero. He had 185 digs while starting the last half of the 2003 season.
"Evan is our most improved player, by far," said Douglas. "He really has matured as a passer and he has gained a lot of confidence in a short period of time. We're counting on him to lead our team defensively and with his passing."
Douglas went outside the country to land a pair of players who will battle for time at outside hitter: 5-10 junior Pedro Leal of Brazil via Pierce Junior College in Woodland Hills (Calif.) and 6-3 freshman Fernando Barron of Puerto Rico. Leal helped lead Pierce to the 2002 and 2003 California J.C. crowns, while Barron was a four-time Puerto Rican high school all-star who competed at the 2003 Youth World Championships.
"Pedro will help us in a big way with his passing and hitting ability," said Douglas. "He has a chance to take the MPSF by surprise. Fernando was a huge find for us. He has unlimited potential. With additional training, he has a good chance to play a lot this season."
Adding depth in the middle will be 6-9 sophomore Danny Newman, who has missed the past two seasons with a knee injury, and a pair of freshmen in 6-7 Matt Mosko, a 2003 All-CIF Division V first team pick at Viewpoint High in Calabasas (Calif.), and 6-5 Josh Feldman from Greenhill High in Dallas (Tex.).
"Dan is finally healthy and has come a long way since he first came to USC," said Douglas. "He could help us in the middle this year. Matt is very gifted athletically. He has improved quite a bit, to the point where he is fighting for lots of playing time. And we have high hopes that, in time, Josh will develop into a real good player for us."
A pair of freshmen will provide depth at setter: 6-5 Jim Stein of St. John Bosco High in Bellflower (Calif.) and 6-3 Andrew Biernat from Crespi High in Encino (Calif.), who transferred to USC after a semester at Pierce.
"Jim is a great team player," said Douglas. "He'll have a utility role, as he can set and pass and is willing to do whatever is needed for the team. Andrew was a late arrival. He has a good volleyball background and will help our setting depth."
Brian Selogie, a 6-2 freshman from Peninsula High in Rolling Hills Estates (Calif.), will be a reserve libero. He spent the fall semester at Colorado.
"Brian is a developing young player who gives us some defensive depth," said Douglas.
Two freshmen outside hitters6-5 Matt Anderson, who was a two-time All-CIF Division II first team selection at Laguna Beach (Calif.) High, and 6-4 Mike Terrill, who didn't play volleyball last year while at USClikely will redshirt in 2004.
"Matt's hitting has improved tremendously," said Douglas. "As he develops, we'll be able to count on him in the future. Mike is another pleasant surprise. He's a very positive player and has added a lot to our team's character."
As the 2004 season begins, Douglas has a warning for opponents.
"We have something to prove this year," he said. "We have to prove that we're better than everyone else thinks we are.
"Some teams may overlook us because of our record the last two years. I think that will be a mistake."