Pair of sweeps helps USC win 10th straight match

The No. 3 USC men’s volleyball team extended its winning streak after sweeping both No. 2 UCLA and No. 14 UC Santa Barbara with scores of 25-17, 25-14, 25-22 and 25-18, 25-22, 25-23 respectively over spring break. The young Trojan team has hit its stride. Since the unceremonious loss in consecutive sets at home against the Bruins more than a month ago, the Trojans have been on a 10-match tear.

“We keep getting better with more time on the court together,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said. “Also, Tony Ciarelli has been nothing short of remarkable since the Stanford match. He willed us to win against UCLA and Pepperdine.”

The Trojans (15-4, 12-4) exacted revenge on the Bruins (19-4, 13-3) in response to a disappointing loss at home more than a month ago.

USC rallied behind senior outside hitter and co-captain Ciarelli’s match-high 14 kills and six aces. The national player of the year candidate has been remarkable, with 15 aces in the last two weeks .

“I really got in a rhythm, starting with the Pepperdine match. I figured out my toss and it makes it easier to serve tough,” Ciarelli said. “The aces come and go, but the more important thing is that I haven’t missed many serves.”

The Trojans also got boosts from redshirt junior outside hitter Steven Mochalski, who finished with 12 kills at a .421 rate, and from junior opposite Maddison McKibbin, who finished with 11 kills.

“We’re more mature than we were in February. We have a lot more experience and that’s especially helped for the young guys,” Ciarelli said. Even though we won in three it felt like a five-game match because it was so emotional and the rivalry was so big. We really wanted it.”

The Bruins tried a variety of lineups in an effort to kick-start their offense. The Bruins had no player with more than Jeremy Casebeer’s seven kills as the Trojans held the Bruins to .282 hitting.

“Coach [Jeff] Nygaard’s blocking gameplan was great. Their big hitters Weston Dunlap and Thomas Amberg had decent percentages but not a lot of kills,” Ferguson said. “We served much better this time around and we forced them to be predictable. We didn’t get a ton of stuffs but we altered a lot of shots and got them uncomfortable.”

The Trojans continued their tour de force two days later against struggling UC Santa Barbara (5-17, 3-14) behind an overwhelming performance attacking, serving, blocking and digging. The Trojans out-hit (.379 to .117), out-blocked (9-3), out-dug (20-14) and out-served (7-3 aces) the Gauchos en route to a 3-0 victory.

“I was really proud of the fact that we came out after an emotional win against UCLA and we still maintained our poise and focus,” Ferguson said. “That’s a perfect trap match — it’s a tough place to play and they make a lot of substitutions, so it’s tough to gameplan against them. We had to focus on us and how we played. We were a little more sloppy but we were still good enough to get it done ugly.”

Ciarelli again led the way with a team-high 10 kills earned at a .412 rate. Freshman setter Micah Christensen continued his steady improvement as the Trojans’ main distributor, connecting on 30 assists that resulted in the team’s phenomenal hitting efficiency.

“[Christensen’s] been impressive. He’s very detail oriented. He picks up nuances and tendencies from the other team really well and he follows the gameplan impeccably,” Ferguson said. “There’s always a play in a match where he sees something that we looked at on video that’s different — like a quarterback audible — and he’ll pick it up. He’s a great competitor and play’s with a lot of poise.”

The win streak brought sixth-year coach Bill Ferguson his 100th career victory at USC. Ferguson now sports a 100-62 career record at USC. Though his career has been impressive, the man at the helm of the Trojans’ men’s volleyball program remains fixed on the national title.

“It’s a credit to the coaches I work with and players we’ve been fortunate enough to coach. It’s very humbling to do that in our league with all these great coaches and I’m fortunate I get to do it at a place like at ‘SC,” Ferguson said. “But I’m only worried about a two-game winning streak in May.”

USC’s next match is Friday against George Mason University in the Physical Education North Gym, where the Trojans played before moving to the Galen Center.