Trojans open conference tournament with CSUN

The USC men’s volleyball team finished the regular season winning five of its last six games.

Even though the Trojans travel to No. 3 Cal State Northridge tomorrow for the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, a team they lost to twice this season, the Trojans are ready to make a deep run.

“We’re pretty confident. It doesn’t matter who we play at this point,” junior outside hitter Tri Bourne said. “We’re a playoff team, and we know we love playing in these big games. We wanted [No. 1] Stanford, but it really doesn’t matter.”

No. 6 USC (16-10, 13-9) lost to the Matadors (21-8, 15-7) 3-2 and 3-1 in February earlier this season. CSUN plays a very simple and unconventional game, and Bourne said the Matadors thrived on opponents’ negative energy.

“They are a confident team. When they see us getting down on ourselves, they play better,” Bourne said.

Bourne points to a mental block that caused USC to go into the matches against Northridge with an already pessimistic attitude.

“We get on ourselves against Northridge. We don’t match up well against them so we always go into the match like, ‘Man we gotta play Northridge,’” Bourne said. “We just have to be confident. I think we are going to go off on these guys.”

The Trojans are using last year’s playoff run as motivation for this year. Last season, USC went into the MPSF tournament as losers of four out of its last six games, yet made it all the way to the national championship while playing on the road.

Unlike last year, the Trojans are on a winning streak entering the playoffs and have confidence based on the fact that they know they can get to the national championship match because they were there last season.

“Northridge is a hostile environment and we’ve been there before. We know what it’s like to be on the road,” said USC coach Bill Ferguson. “We’ve pretty much experienced everything. We had a five set come from behind win in the conference quarterfinals last year — we won 3-0 in the semis. In the finals we were down 0-2 and won 21-19 in the fifth set. Then in the national semis we won in four and we went to five in the national championship.”

USC is hoping to get a boost from the return of Bourne, who has sat out the last four games with a broken left thumb. He has been practicing all week and says he’s ready to go. Ferguson called him a game-time decision and isn’t concerned with putting senior Tyler Stevens who has started in place of Bourne on the floor.

“Tyler’s playing great. If we had to play today with Tyler we’d be fine,” Ferguson said. “He’s been our best passer since he’s been in the lineup.”