USC men’s volleyball hopes recent success continues against 49ers

The No. 1 USC men’s volleyball team will travel to No. 6 Long Beach State tonight in a rematch of the Trojans’ sweep over the 49ers earlier this season.

The Trojans (9-1, 9-1) methodically swept Cal State Northridge on Wednesday, winning at the Matadome for the first time in nine matches. Against the Matadors, they hit .636 for the game, with senior opposite Murphy Troy, senior outside hitter Tri Bourne and junior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli all finishing with double-digit kills.

Despite 16 errors at the service line, a defense intent on stopping the bread-and-butter middle attack and a flat atmosphere, the Trojans focused and executed.

“I was really happy that we adapted,” said USC coach Bill Ferguson. “Since they took away the middle, we went outside and Murphy [Troy] and Tony [Ciarelli] really got better at the end of the match because of those opportunities.”

Long Beach State (8-5, 7-3) boasts a considerably better record than Cal State Northridge, good for third in the conference.

“They are going to be entirely better,” Ferguson said. “They had an off night last time. They also have a couple new guys that are stepping up.”

Long Beach State outside hitter Brad Hemmerling recorded a career-high 16 kills in a sweep over Pepperdine on Wednesday. Prior to the Pepperdine match, he had only played in eight sets this season.

The 49ers also feature one of the nation’s best middle blockers in Antwain Aguillard.

“They have a big pair of middle blockers,” Troy said. “But we won’t need to do alter anything drastically.”

Aguillard ranks third in the conference in blocks, one spot shy of Trojan senior middle blocker Austin Zahn.

“He’s an offensive threat,” senior setter Riley McKibbin said. “But we’re not going to work around him or anything. We’ll stick to our game plan.”

The Trojans have won the last five meetings against the 49ers.

“The combination of the good volleyball and the good, knowledgeable crowd is really good for volleyball,” Ferguson said. “It’s gonna be a crankin’ place.”

To add to an already raucous home atmosphere, Long Beach State will be honoring its 1991 championship team before Friday’s match. The Trojans happened to be the runners-up that year.

“I feel like every team that plays us does this,” McKibbin said. “They always honor some team that beat USC like 20 years ago when they play us. All we’re focusing on is extending our streak and keeping our No. 1 spot.”

First serve is at the Long Beach State Walter Pyramid at 7 p.m.