In what has arguably been one of the darkest weeks in the history of Trojan athletics, the No. 1 ranked USC men’s volleyball team escaped the purgatory of their Los Angeles campus this past weekend as they began their season on the Hawaiian Islands at the Outrigger Hotels Invitational.
The pre-season No.1 ranking marked the first time in nearly two decades that the Trojans began their campaign at the top of the NCAA. In Honolulu, that ranking was immediately challenged by some of the upper echelon teams from across the country.
In their season-opening match against No. 5 Penn State, the Trojans, behind junior outside hitter Murphy Troy, swept the Nittany Lions with relative ease (30-28, 30-24, 30-24). Troy, a member of the 2009 All-MSPF team, made 11 kills in the match. The biggest surprise of the match came from sophomore libero Andrew Pizula, who was making his first appearance for USC. Pizula carried the team down the stretch with a match-best 12 digs.
USC continued their dominance in the “Aloha State” despite receiving an early scare from No. 10 Ohio State. The Buckeyes took the first set Friday night in resounding fashion (30-20), behind the one-man wrecking crew of Shawn Sangrey. Sangrey recorded a match-high 19 kills and also had seven digs.
After the first set however, the No. 1 Trojans regained their form from last year’s magical run to the NCAA final. USC cruised to victory behind set wins of 30-26, 30-25, and 30-14.
The star of the night was undoubtedly sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, who paced the Trojans with an historic eight aces in the match. Ciarelli’s eight aces tied a school record previously held by Beau Rawi since 2001.
“The ace record was somewhat of a surprise to me, when I heard I had eight I didn’t immediately think that it was a record,” Ciarelli said. “It’s something you never expect: to get any record at all. However, now that I know what I’ve done, it is cool to know I have the record.”
In their final match of the invitational Saturday night against No. 12 Hawaii (2-1), the Trojans quickly found out the Warriors were not content with playing the role of a gracious host. Behind an invitational-high 24 kills from junior outside hitter Joshua Walker, Hawaii tripped up the Trojans with a four set victory (30-21, 24-30, 30-28, 30-23).
Troy, the team captain, and Hawaii-native Tri Bourne led USC in the losing effort, with 15 and 14 kills respectively. Senior middle blocker Hunter Current’s .533 hitting percentage was also a match-high.
“Our team understands that in this league, no team goes undefeated,” Current said. “This team is eager to start the MPSF with a slate and continue to prove that our ability and mindset travel much beyond pre-season competition.”
USC (2-1) kicks off the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation portion of their schedule tonight at Pauley Pavilion against cross-town rival UCLA (1-2). The match, which is set to begin at 7 p.m., will continue the team’s string of early season road matches, but the players said they feel as though this match has some extra amount of importance despite being played in January.
“There is a huge rivalry here as they have always been the big dogs of the MPSF,” Ciarelli said. “We want and need the Wednesday game really bad.”