USC finishes off road trip with a victory
Itâ€™s one of the most clichĂ© phrases in sports: Play one game at a time.
But for the No. 2 USC menâ€™s volleyball team (7-3, 5-2), tasked with a Friday night match against the No. 9 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (4-7, 4-4), that simple mentality proved to make the difference as the team tried to regain its winning ways.
â€śItâ€™s very important to take each game one at a time because every time we play we have the potential to play better than the last,â€ť junior outside hitter Tri Bourne said.
On a road trip that saw the Trojans lose two heartbreaking five-set matches, it is only fitting the team hit its stride again with a five-set thriller. In a see-saw battle that saw neither team claim two straight sets, the Trojans relied on a complete team effort and late-game heroics to outlast the Gauchos (30-27, 22-30, 30-24, Â Â Â Â 26-30, 15-10).
For much of the match, the Trojans were led by the typical contributions of sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli and junior opposite Murphy Troy. Ciarelli paced the team with 18 kills, nine digs and three blocks, and Troy, the teamâ€™s co-captain, pitched in with 16 kills, seven blocks and five digs.
Yet while the team got huge performances from two of its primary leaders, the Trojans snapped their two-game skid thanks in large part to a variety of players who stepped up against UCSB. Junior outside hitter Tri Bourne posted double-digits in kills and digs, with 13 and 15 respectively. Senior middle blocker Hunter Current keyed the team with seven crucial blocks and a team-high .417 hitting percentage. And Clay Knapp, who made his first career start at libero, was not afraid of the bright lights, as the sophomore delivered nine digs in a winning effort.
â€śIt was a lot of fun getting to start Friday night, and Iâ€™m happy that Iâ€™m now able to contribute in matches,â€ť Knapp said. â€śBut what makes our team good is that we have 20 players that compete like hell everyday in practice to push the starters to play better.â€ť
But in a match that can best be described as the ultimate team victory, USC coach Bill Ferguson and the Trojans still have their work cut out for them going forward. Although the team capitalized on Gaucho errors in the first (30-27) and third (30-24) sets, the Trojans were not highly efficient at the offensive end, hitting .209 on the night with no aces.
â€śErrors and lack of focus have certainly been a concern, but, while many teams seem to be peaking this early in the season, we still have a long way to go until we reach our full potential,â€ť Current said.
While the team flourished in the fifth set (15-10) after taking an early 7-3 lead, playing three straight grueling five-set matches tends to take a toll on players through the grind of a long season. USC, however, contends that its training has fully prepared it for the longevity of a full season.
â€śDespite having a few five game matches that would seemingly take a Â toll on our physical health, our training has prepared us for those kind of games,â€ť Current said.
If the fatigue of a demanding start to the season begins to wear on the team, the road-weary Trojans will at least have this to look forward to: seven straight home matches. While the Galen Center may seem more foreign at this point than the long, monotonous bus trips the team has become accustomed to this season, a little home cooking shouldnâ€™t harm a team looking to make its mark in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
The Trojans did not drop a single set in two home matches this season and look to continue this trend and their â€śone match at a timeâ€ť philosophy when they take on the No. 10 Pepperdine Waves at 7 p.m. on Friday night. The Waves, who beat the Trojans on Jan. 29, are coming off their biggest victory of the season â€” an upset of the No. 1 California State University Northridge Matadors.
â€śWe are all looking forward to coming back to the Galen Center and playing in front of our fans,â€ť Bourne said. â€śAfter being under the pressure of playing in front of the other teamâ€™s fans for most of the season, weâ€™re ready to pay them back and show them what we got at home.â€ť