Leading up to last night’s game, USC coach Bill Ferguson expressed no concerns about his team’s ability to focus.
Fielding a veteran lineup that has both won games as underdogs and dropped games when heavily favored, the Trojans, with experience, have built their team identity this season around a collective passion and intensity.
In what could have been pegged as a ‘trap’ game for the Trojans against an unranked, sub-.500 opponent, they managed to bear down and win three competitive sets on the road, winning for the first time in their last nine chances at the Matadome.
“To be honest, it wasn’t the easiest game to get the adrenaline flowing for,” said senior setter Riley McKibbin, who padded his impressive 12.06 assists per set average with an astounding 45 assists on Wednesday night. “There weren’t a lot of fans, and the building wasn’t the most aesthetically-pleasing place, but it was a crucial win for us.”
The heavy hitters from USC’s match against Pacific, senior outside hitter Tri Bourne and junior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, were rejoined once again by senior opposite Murphy Troy after his one-game hiatus due to the stomach flu.
All told, the trio combined for 42 of the Trojans’ 53 kills on the evening, terrorizing the Matadors’ porous defense.
“We thought they were going be susceptible to the back row quick attack, but they stopped us right away with that,” Ferguson said. “We did a nice job of changing on the fly and adjusting to that. At the beginning of the match, Northridge did a good job of blocking the middle, so we went outside with our hits.”
What handicapped the team for most of the game, however, was shoddy production from the Trojans’ servers.
The Trojans had to overcome 16 service errors compared to just two aces, both delivered by Troy.
In fact, at some points the service game faltered so much that the Trojans had to bring in a serving specialist, redshirt junior libero Brad Keenan, to help revitalize the attack.
“It was an off night [for the service game],” Ferguson said. “We have to do better serving on the road and be more consistent. Some of our errors were deep errors which means we were just missing. Our team’s volleyball IQ is so high that sometimes we over-think things. In some instances, [Troy] and [Ciarelli] tried to thread the needle a little too much.”
A few minor mistakes in executing hits and serves aside, the Trojans accomplished a feat they have not for years.
They were able to close out tight sets in a manner which eluded them against Pepperdine. Their next test will come at No. 6 Long Beach State tomorrow night at 7 p.m.