USC Men's Volleyball Headed To NCAA Championships
May 3, 2009
The No. 4-ranked USC men's volleyball team earned its first trip to the NCAA Final Four since 1991 by posting a dramatic 30-23, 30-25, 20-30, 26-30, 21-19 victory over No. 2 Pepperdine in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match on Saturday (May 2) before 1,400 fans at UC Irvine.
USC improved to 20-10 overall, while Pepperdine fell to 22-5. The Trojans staved off 2 match points in the fifth set and withstood a near-heroic performance by Pepperdine's MPSF Player of the Year, Paul Carroll.
The victory capped the Trojans' remarkable run through the MPSF tourney. Seeded fifth in the tourney after losing 4 of its final 6 regular season matches, USC first came back from a 2-0 deficit to win at fourth-seeded Stanford on April 25 in an MPSF quarterfinal match. Then the Trojans stunned top-ranked, top-seeded UC Irvine on the Anteaters' home court, 3-0, on April 30 in an MPSF semifinal contest.
USC will be making its 12th trip to the NCAA Championships, where it has won 4 NCAA titles, finished second 6 times and third once. But it's been 18 years since the Trojans' last NCAA berth and 19 years since USC's last NCAA title in 1990.
USC, which earned the MPSF's automatic NCAA berth by virtue of winning the conference tourney, will be joined at the NCAA Championships by fifth-ranked Penn State, the defending NCAA champ out of the EIVA, and 10th-ranked Ohio State out of the MIVA, plus an at-large team (likely Pepperdine or UC Irvine).
Held in Provo, Utah, the NCAA semis are on Thursday (May 7) and the final is on Saturday (May 9). All matches will be shown live on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
Five Trojans were in double kill figures in the match: Murphy Troy (23 kills on 50 attempts), Tony Ciarelli (19 on 51 swings), Austin Zahn (19), Hunter Current (11) and Tri Bourne (10). Current hit .714 and had 6 blocks, Zahn hit .478 and had 4 blocks, Bourne had 10 digs and 5 blocks, Riley McKibbin had 14 digs and 4 blocks and Ciarelli had 4 aces.
Carroll put on a show for Pepperdine, getting 37 kills on 78 attempts. In the final 3 sets, he had 27 kills (on 52 swings). He also served 4 aces. Tyler Jaynes added 12 kills while hitting .611 and had 5 blocks, Rodnei Santos had 8 blocks, Kasey Crider had 13 digs and Matt McKee had 11 digs.
Pepperdine hit .349 and had 16 blocks to USC's .316 and 12.
Like it did in the semis against UC Irvine two nights earlier, USC got off to a quick start in the first set, opening up a 6-0 lead and building it up to a 12-point margin at 26-14 before Pepperdine made a 7-0 run. But the Trojans were able to close out the set while hitting .400 to Pepperdine's .125 and getting 4 blocks.
It was more of the same for USC in the second set, as the Trojans got out to a 6-2 lead, extended it to 12-5 and were never threatened the rest of the way while hitting .385 and serving 3 aces.
USC held a 14-11 lead in the third set before Carroll came alive. The momentum changed when the Waves scored 4 points in a row to take their first lead of the match, 15-14. Pepperdine then quickly pulled away while hitting .429 to USC's .065 and getting 5 blocks.
Pepperdine continued in control through most of the fourth set, forging a 22-16 lead, but USC caught up at 23-23. However a kill by Carroll followed by a Wave block gave Pepperdine a lead it never gave up again. The Waves hit .531 and had 4.5 blocks in the set.
USC appeared to be in control of the fifth set at 9-6, but Pepperdine slowly crept back and then overtook the Trojans at 12-11 by scoring 3 consecutive points. The Trojans, however, scored the next 2 points and then served for the match at 14-13. It was the first of 5 times that USC served for the match, while the Waves served twice on match point. With the Waves up 19-18 and serving, a Troy kill followed by a Pepperdine hitting error set up USC's win, which came on an ace off a short serve by Ciarelli.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of our team and how excited we are to be going to the NCAAs," said third-year USC head coach Bill Ferguson. "It's been a long time coming for USC.
"For us to hang in there with Paul Carroll playing as well as he did and be able to pull out the win is a credit to our guys. It was like riding a roller coaster, but to finish the match up the way we did says a lot about of players' character."