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NCAA volleyball: USC beats Ball St. in First Point Challenge

NCAA volleyball: USC beats Ball St. in First Point Challenge

Ball State’s Wil McPhillips is all over USC’s Kyle Paulson/Scott Clouse photo

AUSTIN, Texas — One of the pillars of First Point Volleyball Foundation is introducing the best collegiate players to youth players. The annual First Point Collegiate Challenge serves as the centerpiece for that endeavor, and fans in attendance for the event’s opening match Friday were treated to two players on both ends of the spectrum: One an established All-American, and one a freshman who has the makings of a future superstar.

No. 13 USC of the MPSF won 21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-21 and raised its record to 5-0 by defeating No. 14 Ball State (7-3) of the MIVA behind Wes Smith, 6-foot-10 freshman middle from Encinitas, California, who has the physique of a strong safety.

Ball State had some good news despite the loss, the return of 6-6 junior outside hitter Tinaishe Ndvazocheva. The native of Zimbabwe and 2023 honorable-mention AVCA All-American missed the Cardinals’ first nine matches for undisclosed reasons.

Saturday in the Austin Convention Center, Ohio State plays USC at 1:30 Central, Stanford plays Ball State at 4 and UCLA plays Penn State at 6:30.

Smith, the cornerstone of a highly touted USC freshman class, had 13 kills, hitting .579, and four blocks and a dig. Fellow freshman Caleb Blanchette, a 6-5 setter from Brentwood, Tennesssee, dished out 38 assists and had two blocks and three digs.

Ninth-year USC coach Jeff Nygaard said Smith shows something different every time he steps on the court.

“He’s obviously a big, physical presence,” Nygaard said. “He’s somebody that the other team has to pay attention to. If our ball control puts us in a situation where we can use him, other teams’ block has to pay attention to him.

“ …  But now he’s adding relentless defensive effort. He’s digging balls, he’s playing balls out of the net, he’s point-scoring from the service line. He’s learning and adding volleyball value at every turn. He just continues to get better and better every day.”

And, to be sure, Smith has plenty of help. The Trojans hit a tidy .317, and a variety of players got in on the fun. Sophomore outside hitter Dillon Klein had 11 kills, an assist, an ace, seven digs and three blocks. Senior middle Kyle Paulson contributed nine kills and eight blocks, one solo, and junior opposite Jack Deuchar also had nine kills, three blocks and seven digs.

USC held a 15-9 blocks advantage.

“We got some heat from the middle,” he said. “We were…

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