Trojans host conference foe in front of home crowd

Who would’ve thought that the best resemblence to the No. 1 USC men’s volleyball team of 2009 would be Miami University’s (or simply, “The U’s”) football team of 1987?

Jumping higher · Senior middle blocker Hunter Current and the USC men’s volleyball team will make their home debut tonight. - Nathaniel Gonzalez | Daily Trojan

Off the court, these Trojans don’t resemble the arrogant, trash-talking, cocky players that personified the Miami stereotype of the ’80s and early ’90s. But on the court, the Trojans have learned a thing or two from that championship-winning team after watching the ESPN documentary, The U.

“One of the guys said that the other team wanted to win, but [Miami] knew how to win,” said sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, who was named the AVCA National Player of the Week. “Last year, we wanted to win. But this year, we know how to win.”

During no time was that more evident than on Friday, when the No. 1 USC men’s volleyball team — down two sets to love in a rematch of last year’s national championship (which they lost) against Irvine — gave a thrilling and gutty performance to win the last three sets and pull out the victory.

Tonight, they will get a chance to showcase that talent and No. 1 ranking for the first time in front of their home fans, as the Trojans (4-2, 2-0 MPSF) host Long Beach State (2-3, 1-1).

“We’re excited. Ever since I’ve been here we’ve gotten better each year,” junior outside hitter Murphy Troy said. “[It shows when our] home crowd gets more interested and brings more fans to the game. So finishing second last year, we’re really excited to create a lot of buzz for the team and the home crowd and do some great things for them.”

Yet, after the euphoric win at Irvine, the Trojans know they can’t overlook a talented Long Beach team that has struggled out of the gate. The 49ers have one All-American first teamer in Dean Bittner and an All-American second teamer in Dustin Watten who have the capability to cause the Trojans’ trouble from the service line and the net.

USC coach Bill Ferguson has been showing the team tapes of these players all week to get them motivated against a squad that finished .500 last year.

“They bring it from the service line and they are very physical at the net. If just watching those guys doesn’t alert us, something’s wrong. We’re gonna really need to be on it to take care of those guys,” Ferguson said.

That’s not to take anything away from the No. 1 team in the nation. The Trojans validated their ranking as the best team in the country Friday when it stormed back to defeat the defending national champions.

The comeback not only confirmed USC’s hold on the top spot, but gave the team the confidence to know it could beat anyone this year, even when it’s not playing its best.

The Trojans were out-hit (.325 to .235) and out-blocked (14-4) against Irvine, and they know they aren’t close to peaking yet. But they do know they can’t afford to come out slow against Long Beach, like they did against Irvine and in their only loss against Hawaii.

“We need to come out hard right from the very beginning. That first game we were not ready to play,” Ciarelli said. “That said, if you’re playing your best ball at the beginning of the season, most likely at the end of the season you’re not peaking. You need to work into it and progress. Everyone on this team wants to win, no doubt. But we know we’re not at our best yet.”

Yet even when they aren’t at their best, the Trojans are No. 1 in the country and beat the defending national champions. Who knows where they will be in a few months.