Following an impressive regular season capped by wins in 15 of its last 16 games, the No. 1 USC men’s volleyball team is poised to make a run in this weekend’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
First in line for the Trojans (21-2, 20-2) is No. 8 UCLA, which USC easily disposed of in straight sets during last week’s MPSF regular season match.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” said USC coach Bill Ferguson. “The guys playing as well as they did last week with nothing on the line shows that we’re in a good place.”
During the regular season, USC won 13 of its 23 matches in straight sets. It has faced — and conquered — a full battery of tests — dropping large leads, making large comebacks and steadily dominating en route to victory. USC’s only losses came in two five-set thrillers.
The Trojans have also been statistically dominant, leading the league in hitting percentage (.355), opponent’s hitting percentage (.249), kills (14.06 per game), assists (13.18 per game) and digs (9.93 per game).
USC won its first MPSF regular season title in 2000. The Trojans have also won their last four matches against UCLA and seven of the last eight.
Senior opposite Murphy Troy has been named MPSF player of the week three times, and junior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli earned the honor twice, as well.
On the other hand, UCLA (16-14, 9-13) has been inconsistent thus far. Although it has beaten the likes of No. 3 UC Irvine, it has also dropped matches to the likes of unranked UC San Diego.
During the last USC-UCLA meeting, Bruins coach Al Scates pulled starting middle blocker Weston Dunlap and starting opposite Kyle Caldwell after an inconsistent match from the two.
“Al’s trying to find a lineup that’ll work,” Ferguson said. “I anticipate that he’ll have a set lineup and give the guys a longer leash.”
Last year, the Trojans dropped the first round match of the MPSF tournament to Cal State Northridge. The Trojans’ experience, skill and all-around cohesion has them primed to avoid a repeat upset this time, however.
“The guys have really bought into the ‘one day, one practice a time’ type of work ethic,” Ferguson said. “There’s no anxiety now. It’s all about us. If we give a good effort and play our game, we’ll be fine.”
First serve is at 7 p.m. at Galen Center on Saturday.