Stanford vowed to focus its defensive attention on containing USC senior opposite Murphy Troy on Friday night. To its credit, the No. 3 Cardinal (16-7, 12-6) was wildly successful in executing that game plan, as Troy managed a mere eight kills at a dismal .059 clip.
Troy’s rare off-night was only a minor footnote, however, as the Trojans recorded a 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 25-22 victory over visiting Stanford in a testament to USC’s depth. With several players capable of shouldering scoring duties, Troy’s poor performance simply became an opportunity for others to lead.
Junior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, who has frustrated the Cardinal in multiple outings, followed up his 12-kill, five-ace performance against Stanford last month with an even more impressive encore performance of 21 kills and four aces.
“I don’t think there’s one star [on our team],” said USC coach Bill Ferguson. “Murphy gets the most press, but everybody in our lineup’s good. Teams are going to try to stop one player, and every big match we’ve had, teams may have shut down one of our players, but there are always two who step up.”
Another one of those players who stepped up Friday was sophomore outside hitter Madison McKibbin, who began the season as a starter, but was supplanted early on by senior outside hitter Tri Bourne. Ferguson inserted McKibbin into the lineup at the end of the second set.
“He brought the score much closer,” Ferguson said. “He turned the momentum around, leading us into the third set. In the fourth set, he came in as a blocking substitute for [senior setter] Riley [McKibbin], and not only did he get a big stuff block that put us ahead, but he also had real key sets.”
The victory was satisfying for the Trojans as it came against a program that recruits from the same areas, has also advanced to the NCAA championship game within the last five years and whose coach, John Kosty, was hired the same year as Ferguson. Moreover, with the victory, the Trojans assured themselves the opportunity to clinch the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title outright the next night against conference doormat No. 16 Pacific (10-17, 4-15).
As expected, the Trojans breezed to a 25-18, 25-15, 25-17 sweep of struggling Pacific, which has dropped eight of its last 12 games. As a result, USC secured the No. 1 seed in the MPSF playoffs and home-field advantage throughout the tournament.
During the match, the Trojans received contributions from Troy and Bourne, as both registered double-digit kills.
What was most impressive, however, was the team’s professionalism.
“I told the team that I was almost more proud of the way they played against Pacific than the way they played against Stanford,” Ferguson said. “The night before, it was a big, emotional match, and we were able to turn around and avoid a letdown. The team has been very mature and competitive all season, and it was impressive the way they were able to take care of business.”
USC returns to action Friday in Honolulu to take on Hawaii at 8 p.m.