The USC men’s volleyball team will embark on a four-match road trip that begins this weekend against No. 3 Stanford and No. 14 Pacific.
The No. 1 Trojans (16-1, 15-1) have been firing on all cylinders, winning 10 matches in a row heading into the final stretch of the season.
USC leads the conference in total offense and defense. The Trojans’ offense is remarkably efficient, with a league-best .358 season hitting average. The Trojans hold their opponents to a league-low .244 hitting average. USC also ranks first in kills per set and digs per set.
And this weekend, the Trojans might be better than ever.
“We’ve really been getting better offensively over the past week,” said USC coach Bill Ferguson. “The improvements might not translate into our hitting numbers immediately, but they will in the long run.”
Although significantly less dominant, Stanford (16-6, 12-5) is the defending national champion and is second place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
“Me, Tri [Bourne], Maddison [McKibbin] and Henry [Cassiday] have known and played with a lot of the Stanford guys growing up in Hawaii, so there’s a huge rivalry here,” said senior setter Riley McKibbin. “And Stanford is the most hostile environment I’ve played in. It’s going to be a fun and exciting match.”
The Trojans swept Stanford last month at the Galen Center. Junior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli finished with 12 kills earned at a .667 clip with five aces.
“I was at a super high level of focus,” Ciarelli said. “I can’t expect to go out and hit and serve those numbers again, but I’m going to keep doing what I do regularly and help out the best I can.”
Stanford has won seven of its last nine matches since playing USC, and lost a closely contested five-set match to Long Beach State last weekend.
“We were really locked in [the last Stanford] match because we came in with a heightened level of focus, especially because we lost to Pepperdine in a tough five-set match the week before,” Ferguson said. “Stanford will be hungry.”
On the other hand, Pacific (10-15, 4-13) has struggled lately, compiling a 4-6 record since the February match against USC, including sweeps at the hands of UCLA, UC Irvine and Hawai’i.
Although its record is less than prestigious, Pacific ranks first in the MPSF in blocks, averaging 2.94 per set.
“They’ll serve very tough too,” Ferguson said. “Teams tend to serve much better at home, and they seem like they’re ready to turn it up a notch.”
If the Trojans win these two matches, they will clinch the top seed in the upcoming MPSF tournament.
“It would be something special,” Ferguson said. “The MPSF is the toughest league in college athletics. But we have to focus on Stanford and then Pacific, or else this speculation won’t mean anything.”