Ciarelli is making his case for player of the year

Seventeen straight wins and a Mountain Sports Pacific Federation regular season title later, the USC men’s volleyball squad is riding high entering the postseason. Saturday night, the top-ranked Trojans (22-4, 18-4) went on the road and swept No. 11 Cal State Northridge 25-19, 28-26, 25-17 to clinch the top seed in the conference tournament.

After a relatively stress-free first set, the Trojans earned their stripes in a see-saw second set that had five lead changes and an incredible 22 score ties before it ended fittingly with a Tony Ciarelli-kill. The teams continued to go back and forth in the third, with the score tied at 11 before the Trojans went on a 9-2 run to pull away in the clinching set.

Setting up success · Freshman setter Micah Christenson (above) is a big reason the Trojans have won 17 straight matches and are ranked No. 1. - Katelynn Whitaker | Daily Trojan

Senior co-captain and outside hitter Ciarelli had another monster performance with a match-leading 19 kills, contributing three blocks and hitting a stunning .818 with only one error.

“No question,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said when asked if Ciarelli should be named AVCA Men’s Division I-II National Player of the Year. “No one has faced what he has and done more for their team than Tony.”

Junior opposite Maddison McKibbin had eight kills to go with four blocks, while freshman middle blocker Robert Feathers had a match-leading six blocks along with six kills.

USC hit .425 for the match while holding the Matadors to a .247 clip. Opposite John Baker and outside hitter Brandon Lebrock led the way for CSUN with 11 and 10 blocks, respectively.

Though the offense was firing on all cylinders, the Trojans’ impressive defense was key to the victory.

“Defensively we were very efficient,” Ferguson said. “We did a better job of watching film in the week and slowed their key attackers down by forcing them to alter shots.”

After losing at home to UCLA in early February, the Trojans have been close to invicible ever since. The 17-game win streak is USC’s longest since the 1990-91 season.

“We’re more relaxed,” Ferguson said about this year’s team in comparison to last year’s squad that lost in the Final Four to underdog UC Santa Barbara. “They [the team] buy into our team concept a bit better, and I feel that they’re a much closer group.”

Having made it two of the past three years, the Trojans will continue their quest for the Final Four on Saturday when they host CSUN at the Galen Center in the first round of the MPSF tournament. If the Trojans advance, they will face the winner of UC Irvine and UCLA in a crucial semifinal matchup.

1 reply
  1. trojanelli
    trojanelli says:

    Great article. Yes this year’s team is a closer knit group. Studying film really works. Coach Jeff Nygaard’s brilliant advice to MBers about blocking and hitting have paid huge dividends.
    The players are confident but not cocky. They are pushed every practice by the best teammates in the USA.
    These guys make the starters work hard and are ready to step in when needed.
    Maddison McKibben has added quality to the Opposite Hitter position. When he plays the other team has to contend with a quick thinking, super fast reflex guy who can HIT, Block, Dig, and Set when called upon. I am amazed by his court smarts every match. Tony has been the MAN!!! Happy Birthday Tony April 13th…..
    deserves Player of the Year. Tony has grown into a super on-and off court LEADER, as well as being an awesome HITTER. God willing, we will advance to the Final Four and Capture the NCAA at Galen on Cinco de Mayo…[I will be sitting in 116-row 1-seat 7] come by and say hello….lets DANCE!!!
    We should all cross Figueroa and cheer on this Magnificent team & Its head Coach Bill Ferguson,
    who has resurrected our Volleyball Program and lead it to the Pinnacle of College Prowess. Still lots of work to do….but the next 5 are all at Galen……its there for us …now lets go out and capture the Crown, always
    Fight ON!!!

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