Despite failing to meet expectations a season ago, the No. 1 ranked Trojans begin 2011 atop the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I-II poll for the second consecutive year. The team has also been voted by the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s coaches as the co-favorite to win the conference.
“It’s nice that people think of us that way, but we’re concerned with the process of getting there at the end of the year,” USC coach Bill Ferguson told USCTrojans.com.
USC has a plethora of talent, returning five out of six starters from last season, when they finished with a No. 7 national ranking but just sixth in MPSF play.
The 2011 squad is led by the senior co-captain duo, composed of senior setter Riley McKibbin and senior opposite hitter Murphy Troy.
The explosive and cannon-armed Troy will return for his fourth season as USC’s starting opposite hitter. The perennial All-American has amassed 1,526 kills and 105 aces, putting him on track to break the USC career records in both categories.
Troy will also be a preseason contender for National Player of the Year recognition.
The heady McKibbin will return for his third season as the Trojans starting setter. Last year, he led the team with 1,384 assists and 235 digs. McKibbin is also an All-American candidate.
“The seniors have been great leaders this year and keeping guys focused on what’s really important,” Ferguson said. “We’ve been through this [before], so they understand what it takes.”
To open the season, the Trojans started off strong in a sweep over Alberta, Canada’s No. 2 ranked squad. Junior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli led the team with 12 kills and six digs, while Troy added 11 kills.
Though the Trojans swept Cal State Northridge in a pre-season match, Ferguson knows this game won’t be easy.
“They’re a no-frills team, blue collar team that really works their tails off,” Ferguson said.
The Matadors also come into the night with a reputation as one of the nation’s strongest serving teams.
Still, Ferguson stressed that the team’s focus is on what they can control.
“We need to focus on our side of the net and execute,” Ferguson said. “If we play solid defense, set up a strong block, serve well, side out and execute our gameplan, things will be very good for us.”
First serve will be at 7 p.m. at the Galen Center.