The No. 5 USC Trojans traveled to Provo, Utah Saturday to face the No. 1 BYU Cougars in two days’ worth of matches.
BYU (6-1, 4-0) beat the Trojans (3-2, 2-2) in both matches in front of two sets of raucous crowds. On Friday night, the stadium held 4,261 spectators — one of the most-watched matches in BYU history.
In the first match, the Cougars put together a series of long-scoring runs, including a 7-0 run late in the mostly-USC dominated fourth set to lead to a BYU victory.
“We have a very high volleyball IQ as a team, but we’re not that physical,” said coach Bill Ferguson. “We have to out-think, out-grind, and out-scrap the other team for points. It’s a tough way to play and there will be some lulls, but we can find a way to manage and shorten them.”
Senior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli and middle blocker Steven Shandrick, as well as redshirt junior outside hitter Steven Mochalski, led a three-pronged force against the Cougars. Ciarelli finished with 26 kills at a .364 clip, Mochalski had 13 kills at .348 and Shandrick finished with 11 kills.
“We’ve never been in an environment like that but we surprisingly played really loose,” said Ciarelli. “It really surprised me because we have a lot of young guys.”
In Saturday’s match, the Trojans redesigned their attack in an effort to spread the ball around the court more to create creases in the Cougars’ staunch defense.
“Offensively, I’ve had a great connection with Micah [Christensen],” Shandrick said. “They had a double block on me all weekend and it opened up a lot for our other hitters, especially Tony [Ciarelli].”
After falling behind early in the first set of the match, the Trojans ratcheted up their serving intensity and defense and turned the match into a back-and-forth slugfest.
“Ciarelli, [RS sophomore opposite Tanner] Jansen and [freshman setter Micah] Christensen really lit up the serving line for us,” Ferguson said. At altitude such as that of Provo, teams tend to pull back because the ball sails out of bounds. But these three guys stayed aggressive and put them out of system with strong serving.”
A furious late comeback in set one and a victory in set two left the match tied up. After losing the third set and winning the next behind stellar serving i, the Trojans set the stage for an upset victory in the match tiebreaker. After a back-and-forth set where no team led by more than two points, the Trojans eventually lost by a score of 15-13.
“We’re not big on moral victories, but these last two games have really showed how much fight we have,” Ciarelli said. “We’re never going to accept failure; never going to accept a loss. We’re going to take all of next week and work our asses off so we can come back with a victory.”