With the late-season Mountain Pacific Sports Federation race heating up, the USC men’s volleyball squad considers every match a must-win bout, especially against Stanford, who was looking for revenge after the Trojans swept the then-top-ranked Cardinal late February in Palo Alto, Calif.
Luckily, the Trojans went two- for-two this weekend by defeating Pacific and the Cardinal to cap their successful stint back in their old stomping grounds in the North Gym.
The No. 2 Trojans (18-4, 14-4) swept the No. 11 Tigers (7-16, 4-13) with a score of 25-18, 25-16, 25-22 Friday night, then swept the season series against the No. 5 Cardinal (15-6, 12-5) in a 25-22, 25-20, 15-25, 25-20 victory Saturday evening.
The team extended its winning streak to 13, passing last season’s mark of 12 in a row. They now have the longest Trojan winning streak since 1990-91, when the team won 30 in a row over two seasons.
Redshirt sophomore opposite hitter Tanner Jansen led the way with 17 kills against Stanford while having a .519 hitting percentage, while senior co-captain and outside hitter Tony Ciarelli added 12 kills and freshman middle blocker and national blocking leader Robert Feathers hit .889 while contributing a match-best seven blocks.
After pulling out close victories in the first two sets Saturday night, the Trojans lost their first set in five matches.
Stanford’s serving and passing overtook the Trojans in the third set, and the Cardinal trailed after giving up the first point of the set.
After that, the Trojans found a new energy in the fourth set and showed their ability to fight back after being knocked down. The Trojans started the final set slow, trailing 10-12.
From there, they hit their stride, rolling off six straight points in an 11-3 run that put them up 21-15, and didn’t look back.
“We saw the trees in the forest and not the forest in the trees,” said Ciarelli when asked about what changed in the final set after the Trojans dropped the third. “We didn’t dwell on the result of the game or the match, but focused our intensity and took every point as it came. This game was a testament to our will to come back.”
The consensus MVP of the game was Jansen, who seemed to be everywhere on the court and had timely kills and blocks for the Trojans down the stretch.
“Every time we needed a crucial play, T.J. was there,” coach Bill Ferguson said.
“He never gets rattled and was ultra-aggressive and hitting the ball exceptionally well.”
On Friday night, the Trojans went out and proved why they’re near the top of the conference standings and Pacific is not. After a failed chest bump in pre-game introductions by junior outside hitter Steven Mochalski, not much else went wrong for the Trojans. Ciarelli ended the first set with a brutal ace that knocked Pacific’s star player Taylor Hughes back a couple of feet, and the rout was on.
Mochalski led the way with 11 kills, while Jansen and senior co-captain and middle blocker Steve Shandrick had 10 kills each with Shandrick hitting .533.
The Trojans’ defense was the star of the match though, holding the Tigers to .145 hitting and having 10 blocks to Pacific’s 8.5, defeating the Tigers at their strongest facet. The Trojans will return to the Galen Center this week after playing the last two weeks on their old court at North Gym.
After top-ranked UC Irvine was swept Saturday night against UCLA, the Trojans are positioned to take over the No. 1 national ranking.
This sets up for a clash between the top two teams in the nation Saturday night as Irvine comes to town after the Trojans host UC San Diego on Thursday at 7 p.m.