Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
Different year, same story for the USC men's volleyball team.
Despite playing on their own home floor in Saturday night's National Championship match against UC Irvine, the Trojans were unable to exact any measure of revenge on the Anteaters, falling in a three-set sweep by a combined seven points (25-22, 34-32, 26-24).
"They were the better team tonight," said coach Bill Ferguson. "I am unbelievably proud though of the way this team played not only tonight, but the entire season. And even tonight, I was proud of how we played through adversity. I thought we should have been playing longer in the first set, the second set and the third set, but it wasn't in the cards of us. It's disappointing, but we fought extremely hard."
In 2009, Ferguson's squad came up just short against UC Irvine in a five-set thriller and this time around the script was much of the same for the Trojans, who fell a win shy of securing the university's first men's volleyball title since the 1990 season.
In addition to their past history, the Anteaters also knocked off the Trojans at the Galen Center nine days ago in the MPSF semifinals.
USC had their fair share of chances on Saturday night. After a controversial call ended a comeback bid in the first set, the Trojans built up a comfortable 14-7 lead in the second frame, but it was all for naught as the Anteaters came storming back with a 12-4 run of their own.
Paced by outside hitters Carson Clark (22 kills) and Connor Hughes (13 kills), UCI closed out the frenetic second set and never looked back.
While the Trojans forced a set point in the third frame, Clark, the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, and fellow senior Dan McDonnell were relentless when it mattered most down the stretch, and closed out the match to give UCI their third title since 2007.
Although he failed to capture an NCAA title on his final night in a USC uniform, senior outside hitter and the 2012 National Player of the Year Tony Ciarelli finished his Trojan career with 18 kills and was named to the all-tournament team.
"I think it was very clear tonight that UCI was the better team," said Ciarelli. "They really peaked at the right point in the season. Some people might look at this as a three-game sweep, like UCI killed us, but I don't see that at all. We don't match up with them on paper, so for us to take that team to two deuce sets is pretty amazing and shows that playing as a team and playing as brothers can get it done."
Even in defeat, Ferguson pointed out that the big winner after Saturday's hotly-contested final were the fans and more importantly the sport of volleyball.
"I hope all of our teams and our staffs understand what an unbelievable thing that was for our game tonight," said Ferguson. "I don't think there has ever been an atmosphere like that for a National Championship. To be a part of something like that with this group is something everyone involved should feel very proud about. We took college volleyball to a new level tonight."
(Photo by Pierson Clair)