Rested Trojans escape funk, top UCSB

It has been a long time since the Galen Center looked like this after a USC men’s volleyball match.

Twenty minutes after sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli watched a Santa Barbara shot land out of bounds behind him, the Trojans were still on the court. Ciarelli signed a handful of autographs for children on anything they could find, from ticket stubs to sweatshirts. Just a few feet away, his dad, USC volunteer assistant coach Rocky Ciarelli, entertained a group of fans, and, just off to the side of the court, sophomore middle blocker Steve Shandrick chatted with friends and family.

Nine days after the coach Bill Ferguson said his team “embarrassed the university and the athletic department,” the former No. 1 team in the nation stepped up, and after losing the first set, took the next three to beat No. 10 UC Santa Barbara 3-1 (26-30, 35-33, 30-24, 31-29).

“I really am proud of them,” USC’s Ferguson said. “I ripped them a week and a half ago, but they absolutely responded well by practicing and playing with maturity.”

No. 7 USC (9-6, 7-5) won for just the third time in its last eight games, but, if the team continue winning, it can point to the second set as the turning point to their season.

Down 26-24 and facing the possibility of falling into a 2-0 hole, USC rallied to tie the game at 26. Yet, the Trojans nearly failed to close out the set, throwing away four set points. UCSB had a set point of its own at 33-32 after Ciarelli misplayed a serve.

But junior opposite hitter Murphy Troy came up with a kill when the Trojans needed it, and Ciarelli saved himself by finishing off the set with two aces, as USC tied the match at one set apiece.

“That was huge for us. Those were the situations where we had fought hard and fallen short before,” Ferguson said. “Tonight, they stuck with it. It wasn’t pretty out there but they stuck together, fought hard and stayed positive, and that’s what we wanted.”

USC rode that energy in the third set, as they broke open a 20-20 tie to finish on a 10-4 run. Freshman outside hitter Maddison McKibbon had a kill, and Troy got a block on a hustle point that required diving saves by McKibbon and sophomore libero Andrew Pizula to keep the ball in play.

“Not only did the score look good, but it felt good. We haven’t had a lot of feel good lately, so it was good to get that under our belts,” Ferguson said.

Another feel good story for the Trojans came via the play of Shandrick. The middle blocker made just his third start of the year, but he established himself as one of the best Trojans on the floor Friday night. He had five blocks and hit 12 kills out of 18 attempts to finish with the highest hitting percentage on the team.

“[Junior setter Riley McKibbin] and I have been connecting all week, and what we did in practice carried over to the game,” Shandrick said.

The Trojans hope to carry their momentum when they host No. 8 Hawai’i, to whom they lost earlier in the season, in back-to-back Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matches tonight and tomorrow night.

“All the hard work we’ve put into practice for the last nine days, we’ve completely turned it around,” Shandrick said. “To get that win at home is like a turning point in the season. To have that momentum from here on out, it feels like a new season.”