No. 1 USC upends Long Beach State in straight sets
Late in the third and final set, senior setter Riley McKibbin soared into the air to challenge a ball directly above the net. Hovering in mid-air, McKibbin and a Long Beach State player palmed opposite sides of the ball, until the much shorter Trojan won the joust, sending the ball and the player to the floor.
Emerging victorious with a smirk, the captainâs scrappy effort punctuated a dominating Trojan net display from the outset, as the No. 1 USC menâs volleyball team (2-0, 2-0) dismantled visiting No. 11 Long Beach State (2-3, 1-1) in straight sets, 25-16, 25-17, 25-17.
Quite simply, the 49ers backcourt-based offense, while a topic of pre-game preparation because of its uniqueness, was ill-suited to counter an explosive, upfront hitting attack. Senior opposite Murphy Troy, sophomore opposite hitter Madison McKibbin and junior opposite hitter Tony Ciarelli combined for 28 kills, which were almost always uncontestable save for the occasional miraculous sprawling effort or unforced error.
âWeâre a big, mature team, with a lot of upperclassmen,â said head coach Bill Ferguson. âWeâve been paying attention to the little details that go along with executing these kills, especially our footwork and balance.â
Amid the dazzling barrage of spikes, easy to ignore is Riley McKibbon and freshman libero Henry Cassidayâs instrumental setting and passing work. Murphy Troyâthe gameâs indisputable star with 12 kills, 9 digs, and 5 blocksâeagerly lent credit to the offenseâs facilitators.
âI think we competed really well,â Troy said. âIt was a big game, and we showed up. The great passing made it a lot easier for the setters to give us easy hits.â
Aside from an early 1-0 deficit in the first set, the Trojans never trailed during the match and never struggled for any prolonged stretches, thus never offering the 49ers any glimmer of hope to mount a comeback.
Improving the blocking was a focal point of practice during the week, and the Trojans quickly demonstrated a better scheme, rattling of three consecutive blocks in the first set to shift momentum quickly and to jump out to a 5-1 lead.
âI really like the way we blocked,â Ferguson said. âThe guys were really tough upfront. With that said, it was a much different style of team we faced tonight; it was a much faster tempo. [Junior middle blocker Steven] Shandrick did really well and, of course, Murphy was phenomenal.â
While the Trojans held the advantage in virtually all statistical categories, including hit percentage (.444 to just .091), blocks (11.0 to 4.0), digs (31 to 18) and aces (3 to 1); perhaps the most glaring difference between the two teams was apparent in an intangible sense.
At many points, the 49ers, with sunken shoulders and hanging heads, appeared resigned to the reality that this was not their match. Conversely, the Trojans exuded the confidentâbordering on brazenâswagger of a championship-caliber team. Whether it was Murphy Troy emphatically pounding his chest after another titanic kill or the Trojan reserves doing push-ups when they missed a kill during their warm-ups in between sets, the 49ers never approached the stratosphere of the Trojansâ intensity.
The Trojans will take to the road for their next five matches, beginning Wednesday against No. 7 UC Irvine at 6 p.m.