I’m not typically a fan of doing this, but I want to invite you all on the bandwagon to witness a chance at greatness.
But I promise they’re a truly special unit.
Of course, I am talking about the No. 1-ranked men’s volleyball team in the land, the Trojans, who, over the past two months, have rattled off 15 straight match wins with ease.
They’ve won in new gyms, old gyms, at home, on the road, against lesser foes and against some of the elite teams. All of this has occurred without a single bat of an eye or a collective round of applause from us, the student body.
Most of you love to hoot and holler every Saturday in the fall at the Coliseum, regardless of whether the words “interception” or “face mask penalty” are a part of your vocabulary. Even this spring, as the baseball team has resurfaced from its five-plus years of hibernation, people have come to Dedeaux Field.
Yet, right before our very eyes is a team that has transformed from the hunted to the hunter, from a 5-4 squad to a group that at the moment looks unbeatable, and we’ve all grown apathetic to their success. It’s as if we’ve become so spoiled by this university’s athletic success that we can afford to take a season off from some sports, even if one is on the cusp of bringing another banner back to Heritage Hall.
I’m calling your bluff because frankly I don’t want you to miss out on a team that personifies the very word.
I’m not expecting you to recite National Player of the Year candidate senior Tony Ciarelli’s 2012 résumé of feats, or appreciate the on-court presence of floor general and middle blocker senior Steve Shandrick or even recognize a beautiful assist by freshman setter Micah Christenson from a game-altering block by freshman Robert Feathers.
My only wish is that beginning April 21, when the team returns home to host what surely will be a long run through the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference and NCAA tournaments, you’ll come along for the ride.
If you’re sick of hearing a columnist rant about this team, look no further than their world-class coach, Bill Ferguson.
For a man who is enjoying what is arguably his greatest year at USC, he too cannot get enough of this team.
“I’ve always said this is one of the more enjoyable groups I’ve had since coming here,” Ferguson said. “They just get it and take care of the little things really well. They have the right amount of fun and there are some good personalities on this team, but what makes them great is they know how to move on to the next assignment or team so well. Sometimes as a coach you have to ingrain that into guys, but that hasn’t been the case with this bunch.”
The truth of the matter is, whether facing an opponent such as UC Irvine or UCLA, or playing in front of 5,000 or five, the team really doesn’t care.
Even with all the distractions that come with being a student-athlete on a campus like USC, these guys could care less about the attention. They are high-character individuals, on the court and off, who play not to get their names in a column or to get thousands of fans cheering for them. They play because of the love they have for their sport and the player standing next to them.
Most of them couldn’t tell you when postseason play officially starts or name half the teams they’ve beaten during their remarkable streak to the top. But that’s what’s incredible about them.
To get 20 young men to care about one thing and one thing only, at this level, is nearly impossible.
But that’s what Ferguson and company have done.
These last two months have been special, even awe-inspiring at points, yet none of it matters as I write these words.
It’s not about the journey of days past for these Trojans; it’s about accomplishing what’s on the schedule for today.
It sounds cliché, almost too simple and too naïve to work. But how do you come up with a convincing argument against a 15-game win streak by a bunch of guys who are playing less like a collection of players on a team, and more like a family?
Instead, you learn to embrace the mindset. You learn to appreciate what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. You learn that just like the other widely successful programs on campus, this one is also worth your time.
If you don’t know the sport, still show up. If you know the sport and aren’t a fan, give it a second chance. And if you’ve been cheering since day one, you deserve a standing ovation from all of us.
This team is yours, mine and ours. It’s about time we start acting like it and join the family before the train leaves the station for good.
“For the Love of the Game” runs Wednesdays. If you would like to comment on this story, email Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.