With a chance to clinch a spot in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament on Saturday at Pepperdine, the men’s volleyball team enters this week with a lot of excitement. But first, the Trojans hope to send their seniors off with a nonconference win against Concordia tonight in the final regular season home game of those seniors’ career.
“There’s just a little more urgency for the Pepperdine game because it is in conference,” junior setter Micah Christenson said. “No disrespect to Concordia — they’re a very good team in their league — but we’re gearing up for the MPSF tournament.”
USC head coach Bill Ferguson said that redshirt senior opposite Tanner Jansen, senior libero Henry Cassiday, senior outside hitter Maddison McKibbin, redshirt junior libero/outside hitter Paul Yoder and redshirt junior outside hitter Joey Booth will all either start or feature prominently in the rotation as tonight’s game will be the team’s Senior Night. Though Yoder and Booth both have a year of eligibility left, they are academically seniors set to graduate this year instead of returning for a fifth year of school.
Concordia (26-5, 4-1 Golden State) plays out of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, not the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The Eagles are the defending national champions in the NAIA, but were defeated in straight sets both times they played MPSF teams this year. Concordia fell in three sets to UC Irvine (16-9, 13-8) and UC Santa Barbara (14-7, 13-7) this season. USC (15-9, 14-9) split both matches with UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara this year, with all four of those matches going five sets.
Following the final home game, the Trojans will have one day to fully prepare for a game that might be the final game of the 2014 campaign for USC or could springboard the Trojans into the postseason with a lot of momentum. The Trojans currently stand in seventh place in the MPSF standings. In the 13-team conference, the top eight qualify for the MPSF tournament. The winner of the MPSF tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and Ferguson expects that two other teams from the MPSF will receive wild card bids to the tournament.
Three of the teams immediately behind USC in the standings have all played fewer games than the Trojans and could leapfrog the team in the standings with strong finishes to their seasons. The Trojans can guarantee a minimum finish in the top eight with a win over Pepperdine, though they still have a chance to make the playoffs if they lose to Pepperdine depending on how the remaining competition in the MPSF plays out.
Pepperdine (15-6, 15-6) defeated USC at the Galen Center on Jan. 16 in four sets by a score of 26-28, 25-22, 25-22, 26-24. The Trojans are ranked No. 8 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, with Pepperdine coming in at No. 3.
Ferguson said that the team is excited about the chance to have some time off from playing to focus on things in practice and get some rest for the upcoming potential playoff run.
“I’m really fired up,” Ferguson said. “We’ve got one more league match left, everybody else has got, like, three or four. We’re going to really be able to go back to work next week and work on a lot of technique and getting ready for the playoffs.”
Christenson reiterated his coach’s eagerness about the push for the playoffs.
“I’m very excited,” Christenson said. “Last year, we didn’t actually get the privilege to make the tournament. Just that shot to get in and win three games in a row against the best eight teams in the league, it’s going to be fun.”
USC’s most recent road trip featured away games at Stanford and Pacific. The Trojans were unable to handle Stanford, losing to the Cardinal in four sets in a 25-21, 25-23, 22-25, 25-20 decision on March 27. The Trojans rebounded the following day, however, with a four-set win over Pacific by a score of 20-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-20. The Trojans fell to Stanford in straight sets earlier this season at home by a 25-15, 25-14, 25-22 score on March 9 but swept Pacific on the season after a straight-set victory on March 7 by a score of 25-20, 25-22, 25-15.
“I don’t think we played that bad against Stanford, both teams just came out really flat,” Christenson said. “But they’re the hottest team in the league, if not the country, right now.”
Both the Concordia and Pepperdine games both start at 7 p.m.