After opening its season on the road and coming away with a victory against defending NCAA champion UC Irvine, the USC men’s volleyball team returns to the Galen Center to host one of its biggest rivals.
The No. 7 Trojans (1-1) will take on No. 2 Stanford on Friday night, facing off against a squad that has amassed a 4-0 record to begin the season.
“They’re a really skilled team,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said. “They’re going to want to get [Stanford middle blocker] Eric Mochalski the ball quite a bit. Brian Cook and Steven Irvin are two of their pin attackers, and those three are what really make them go.”
After being swept by UC San Diego in their opening match, the Trojans rebounded with an emphatic win over the Anteaters in straight sets (25-21, 25-23, 27-25). The victory not only enabled USC to earn its first win of the season but also allowed the team to avenge its tough loss at home to UCI in last year’s NCAA championship match.
Sophomore middle blocker Robert Feathers shined on both sides of the court, registering a team-high 12 kills to go along with six blocks. Freshman outside hitter Alex Slaught and redshirt junior opposite Tanner Jansen each notched eight kills to pace the Trojan attack alongside Feathers, while the defense was anchored by freshman libero Brooks Varni (eight digs) and sophomore setter Micah Christenson (seven digs).
“I liked that no one major stood out,” Ferguson said. “I thought everybody brought something to the table and it was a team victory. The thing that was very important to me was us responding to a bad loss and showing the perseverance to leave that behind and do well in the next match.”
Ferguson’s club is attempting to make up for the departures of two key players in the team’s 2012 championship run–outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, the 2012 national player of the year, and All-American middle blocker Steven Shandrick. The Trojan squad consists of 18 underclassmen; of the nine players to start in each of the team’s first two games, only one — opposite Tanner Jansen — holds junior status.
“We came out of our staff meeting wanting to make sure our guys were as professional as possible,” Ferguson said. “There are going to be some young guys who aren’t playing as much right now who need to be ready when their number is called. What we really want to see from our younger guys is how well they’re going to respond to adversity, because it’s going to come as the season progresses.”
Though Stanford poses a tough challenge, the key to success for the Trojans will be limiting the strong Cardinal attack.
“We’re going to expect to see a heavy load of Mochalski, Cook and Irvin. If we can hopefully alter or slow them down a little bit, we’ll have a better shot if we limit one or maybe even two of them,” Ferguson said.
Last season, the Trojans defeated the Cardinal in each of the teams’ two meetings, once in Palo Alto in February and again in a late season home game in March. In the first matchup, USC knocked off then-No. 1 ranked Stanford behind 12 kills from Jansen. Senior opposite hitter Maddison McKibbin also chipped in 10 kills in the team’s 3-2 win.
In the second meeting, USC again outmatched its foe, this time more handily in a 3-1 win. The Trojans’ defense was particularly strong, limiting the trio of Mochalski, Cook and Irvin to just 27 combined kills The defense will have to contain those three again in order to improve their record to 2-1.
USC and Stanford are set to square off at 6 p.m. at the Galen Center.