Trojans avoid upset bug against Pepperdine

The USC men’s volleyball team did not have another letdown against Pepperdine, redeeming itself against the team that had previously ruined its chance at a perfect season.

The No. 1 Trojans took down the No. 13 Waves in straight sets with scores of 25-17, 25-22, 28-26 at the Galen Center, notching their 10th straight win.

Senior opposite Murphy Troy and senior outside hitter Tri Bourne led USC (16-1, 15-1) with 16 kills each. Troy hit .394 and Bourne hit .483, while also adding nine digs.

Pepperdine (8-12, 4-12) handed the Trojans their only loss early this season in a hostile Malibu gym.

“We played a great overall match with a heightened level of focus,” said USC coach Bill Ferguson. “We served them out of system and made them predicable.”

In the first match between the two teams, Pepperdine forced USC out of system throughout the match with tough serving.

“The passing was awesome,” said senior setter Riley McKibbin. “And our guys were really feeling it. All I had to do was put the ball up and they were great.”

With the return of senior middle blocker Austin Zahn and the emergence of a formidable backrow quick attack from Bourne and junior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, USC was efficient, finishing with a .382 hitting percentage to Pepperdine’s .252.

“We got their defense crammed in the middle early the match with the bic and the middle,” Ferguson said. “After that, Troy, Bourne and Ciarelli were left with a lot of single blocks.”

Pepperdine matched up 6’9” junior middle blocker Matt Pollock on Zahn in an effort to contain him.

“He’s a big dude and it’s not easy to play against him,” Zahn said. “I moved my hitting routes around and made sure that their blocking scheme wouldn’t work.”

The Trojans also played stellar defense to complement their efficient offense. Entering the third set, the Trojans blocked 17 balls while the Waves managed only one. Zahn finished with a match-best seven blocks.

“We’ve been working on blocking all week long,” Zahn said. “It was great to finally play them and have such a successful night blocking.”

Pepperdine drew the match to a deuce in the third set. They managed to hit .357 and collect five blocks in a single-set period of revival.

The Trojans, however, exhibited the resilience that has become the trademark of their successful season.

With the score tied at 10-10, Troy and Bourne viciously killed over-passes in back-to-back points.

Later in the set, the 6’2” McKibbin showed his mettle and craftiness against Pepperdine’s explosive 6’7” sophomore opposite Maurice Torres when he outmuscled him to put down a ball that floated between them.

“It felt really good when I beat him on the joust,” McKibbin said. “As a setter, I don’t get many chances to attack, so jousting is my specialty.”

With the score tied at 26-26, Ciarelli viciously bounced a quick outside set off the line and high over the Pepperdine defense.

“I was stoked when Riley set me then because I passed the ball and got in rhythm,” Ciarelli said. “I saw it and put it away.”

The victory did not elicit ideas of revenge against Pepperdine, but rather a sense of closure.

“We finally took down our last assistant coach’s alma mater,” McKibbin said.