With four games left in the regular season, the No. 6 USC men’s volleyball team has finally found its form.
The Trojans have won three straight games, and the streak couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We can’t control much ahead or behind us. We just want to keep winning and be on a roll going into the playoffs,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said. “Last year, [when we went to the national championship], we lost four of six heading into the playoffs so Lord knows what we can do when we’re winning.”
USC only needs one win in its last four games to clinch a spot in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, and the Trojans (13-9, 10-8) hope that win comes this weekend at Pacific (8-18, 0-18) on Friday or at No. 1 Stanford (16-5, 13-5) Saturday.
The Trojans are coming off a sweep of No. 7 UCLA and a hard-fought, five-set victory of defending national champion UC Irvine. They are looking to carry that momentum into this weekend, when they face the No. 1 team in the country.
“Against UCLA, that’s the best we’ve played all year, and we gotta keep that going against Stanford and Pacific,” sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli said. “Pacific always plays us tough, but if we play like that against Stanford, it’s going to be a really good game.”
Though Pacific hasn’t won an MPSF game this year, it isn’t a team USC is over-looking. The Trojans beat Pacific a month ago and have defeated them eight straight times, but they were down 2-0 and became the only team to go to five sets against the Tigers earlier this season.
“That’s pretty good motivation for us,” Ciarelli said. “We should come out strong against them because we know after last time that they can come out and play with every team in this league.”
Although USC is hoping to get past Pacific and secure a playoff spot, the match of the weekend is the one against No. 1 Stanford.
The Trojans lost to the Cardinal at home in February, but this is a different USC team from the one that was in the middle of a slump.
“I’ve played Stanford four times since I’ve been here and I’ve lost to them once,” Ciarelli said. “It’s not like they’re superheroes. They’re No. 1 just like UCI was when we beat them in the playoffs last year. There’s no pressure on us. If they lose, they don’t host MPSF; if we lose, then we’re 10-9.”
Ferguson has largely reverted back to the lineup that helped USC off to a 6-1 start with one exception: Freshman Maddison McKibbin has replaced sophomore Andrew Pizula as the libero. Ferguson finalized this lineup a few weeks ago, and he says the addition of McKibbin is a big reason for the Trojans’ three-game winning streak.
“The lineup change gives us a ton of confidence,” Ferguson said. “Maddison brings a lot to the table that won’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s got a real good way about him and plays well with all the guys on the floor. So there’s a chemistry thing there, too.”