The USC men’s volleyball team is winning again.
And boy does it feel good.
“We’re starting to play a little bit. We’re looser out there and starting to have fun,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said. “We got our mojo back, as one of my assistants said.”
For the first time since Jan. 22, when USC was 10-2 and No. 1 in the nation, the No. 7 Trojans won back-to-back games, as they avenged an earlier season loss to No. 8 Hawai’i 3-1 (16-30, 30-22, 30-19, 30-23).
“This is exactly what we needed,” junior setter Riley McKibbin said. “It feels good. We’re finally starting to click.”
The Trojans were led by a balanced passing attack from Riley McKibbin and his younger brother Maddison McKibbin. They kept the Warriors off balance all night, as three players had more than 20 kill attempts, not including both middle blockers, sophomore Steve Shandrick and senior Hunter Current, who had 16 attempts each.
“When we pass well, I can run the offense,” Riley McKibbin said. “We have some of the best attackers in the league. It’s just about being able to run the system. I’ve been focusing on running the middle a little more, and it worked out real well for us.”
It looked like the Trojans might be in for a long night after the first set. For the eighth time in their last nine matches, the Trojans lost the opening set.
The Warriors outplayed the Trojans in almost every aspect, outhitting them .473 to .081 and winning 94 percent of their sideout points, compared to just 51 percent for USC. Ferguson put in three substitutes in late in the set, but more to get them playing experience and give McKibbin and the middle blockers rest so they could be ready to start the second set.
“We were out of timeouts, so I just wanted to get them ready and gear up for the next three sets,” Ferguson said.
And what did he tell them after the usual first set loss?
“I told the team we had them right where we wanted them.”
After that first set, the match flipped on its head. It seemed USC could do nothing wrong. The attackers varied the offense with floaters over the top of the blockers and kills around the side of the blocking wall. The Warriors had no answers for the Trojans’ attack, as USC ended up with a .357 hitting percentage.
USC turned up the defensive pressure as well. After recording only one block in the first set, the Trojans finished with 15.
“We’ve been blocking better in the last two months, it’s just been overshadowed by some of the losses,” Ferguson said. “I thought our guys did the best job of executing the game plan tonight and our serving was much better, making it more unpredictable.”
Unlike in the match against UC Santa Barbara, USC built big leads early in the last three sets and didn’t let up. They jumped out to 16-9 leads in both the second and third sets and an early 4-0 lead in the fourth set.
“We saw they were flustered, so we knew if we kept playing consistent they would crumble,” Riley McKibbin said.
The Trojans hope they can repeat their performance tonight when they host Hawai’i again at 7 p.m. at the Galen Center.