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.
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.