After a triumphant Senior Day for the squad’s four graduating members, the top-ranked Trojans begin their final weekend of the regular season at Long Beach State, taking on the 49ers.
The Trojans (20-4, 16-4) are currently alone atop the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings, and swept the 49ers (14-13, 9-11) when the teams met in the Galen Center early February.
The Trojans might be in the middle of a 15-match winning streak, their longest since the school record of 30 from 1990-1991, but every match is still a must-win matchup.
“The ability to control our destiny is a weight off our shoulders, but we want to win the league outright,” said senior co-captain and middle blocker Steven Shandrick.
The squad will win the MPSF championship and home-court advantage throughout the MPSF tournament by winning its last two matches against the 49ers and at Cal State Northridge on Saturday. A victory Thursday ensures that the Trojans will be playing at the Galen Center for at least the first round of the tournament.
Despite the resounding result of the teams’ last matchup, the opposing 49ers are not to be taken lightly.
“It will be like playing ourselves,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said. “We’re systematically very similar.”
A key player the Trojans will need to limit will be outside hitter Taylor Crabbe, who is among the most skilled players in the MPSF and will challenge the Trojans with his fast hitting and impressive jumping ability.
“This team is scary,” Ferguson said. “One night they’ll play off their game, the next they’ll come alive and challenge any team in the nation. They’re a much better passing team now than they were when we played them in February, so we need to serve tough and keep them out of their system.”
As far as rotations, the Trojans will finish the season by continuing to interchange at the opposite hitter position.
“We play the hot hand from whatever works out in practice,” Ferguson said. “We’re already in the tournament mentality, and we want to play like it,” he added.
This was especially prevalent last week, when redshirt junior outside hitter Steven Mochalski started and played the entire match Saturday against UC Irvine after having a fantastic practice Friday.
Mochalski did not play Thursday against UC San Diego in favor of junior opposite hitter Maddison McKibbin, who came off the bench Saturday and played for redshirt sophomore opposite hitter Tanner Jansen for the final two sets.