USC, UC Irvine Win NCAA Men's Volleyball Semifinal Matches
May 4, 2012
National Player of the Year Tony Ciarelli had match highs of 18 kills and 10 digs to help the No. 1-ranked USC men's volleyball team hold off a charging Lewis squad, 25-18, 25-12, 18-25, 27-25, in a semifinal match of the 2012 NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship on Thursday (May 3) before 4,375 fans in USC's Galen Center.
In the first semifinal, All-American Kevin Tillie had 21 kills while hitting .500 and he added 8 digs to help No. 2 UC Irvine come back from an opening set loss to post an 18-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-19 win over No. 8 Penn State.
The Trojans (24-5), the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season champion for the second consecutive year, will now face No. 2 UC Irvine on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Galen Center with the NCAA title at stake.
The Trojans, who are hosting the NCAA Championship for the first time ever, have won 4 NCAA crowns, but none since 1990.
UC Irvine has won 2 of 3 matches against the Trojans this season, including last Thursday (April 26) in an MPSF Tournament semifinal meeting in the Galen Center en route to the Anteaters' MPSF tourney title.
In the evening semifinal, USC hit .345 in the match to Lewis' .228. The Trojans had 6 aces and 10.0 blocks. No. 7 Lewis, winners of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament, ends its season with a 26-7 record.
For Lewis, Jay Petty and Geoff Powell each had 17 kills, with Powell adding 9 digs and Petty 7.
USC jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the first set and kept building on it while hitting .462 and posting 5.5 blocks. Lewis hit just .120.
The Trojans scored 10 of the second set's first 11 points, including the opening 6, and breezed through the rest of that set while hitting .462 again (Lewis was at .125). USC had 5 aces in the set.
Lewis turned it around in the third set, using a 3-0 run to build an 8-4 lead and increasing it to a comfortable 16-7 to cruise in. The Flyers hit at a .393 pace to USC's .129 and Powell had 8 kills (as did Ciarelli).
Lewis scored 8 of 11 points to forge a 12-7 lead in the fourth set, then USC scored the next 4 points to tighten it, but the Flyers then went up 17-12 before USC pulled within 18-17 and tied it at 20-20. The set then seesawed until a block by Robert Feathers and Tanner Jansen followed by a Flyers hitting error ended the match. The Trojans hit .361 in the final set.
"We were thrilled to get through that with a victory," said USC head coach Bill Ferguson. "The crowd sure seemed to energize us in the end. We expended a lot of energy in the initial sprint of the first two sets. I told my guys that Lewis will come back. They had done that throughout the season. I could see it coming. Hats off to them, they picked up their energy and made some changes and it worked"
Said Ciarelli: "We weren't tired in those last sets, but we lacked focus and didn't talk about the next play. Then we made sure to do that and it really helped us to a lot."
"You saw our guys fight," said Lewis head coach Dan Friend. "It took us a little longer than I wanted to settle down and get into the game. We needed to show how we got here and why got her and why we belong here and you saw that. You saw it go back and forth in the fourth and unfortunately we made an error at the end and they made a good play and that's how a game goes sometimes."
In the opening semifinal, UCI hit .351 overall in the match and had 9 aces with just 11 serving errors. Penn State hit .246. The Anteaters (25-5) will be playing for their third NCAA crown, having won in it 2007 and 2009. The Nittany Lions, winners of the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association regular season and tournament titles, finished their season with a 23-6 mark.
Connor Hughes added 10 kills for UCI, while teammate Carson Clark had 9 kills, 5 aces and 7 digs and Michael Brinkley had 15 aces.
Joe Sunder and Nick Goodell each had 15 kills for Penn State, while Aaron Russell added 10 kills (hitting .474) and Connor Curry had 12 digs.
In the first set, UC Irvine held a 10-7 lead, but Penn State worked its way back and used a 4-1 run to go up 20-16 for all the margin it needed. The Nittany Lions hit .367 in the set behind Goodell's 5 kills, while UCI hit at just a .100 clip despite Tillie's 7 kills.
It was all Anteaters throughout the second set, as UCI got out to a 5-2 lead and were never threatened while hitting .375 (Penn State hit just .194.). Clark served 2 aces in the set.
It was more of the same and then some in the third set, as UC Irvine jumped out to a 7-4 edge and steadily pulled away. The Anteaters hit a blazing .552 in the set (Tillie had another 7 kills) and served 3 aces. Penn State hit only .160.
The Nittany Lions roared back in the fourth set and built a 15-11 margin, but then the Anteaters stormed back themselves to tie it at 17-17 and then UCI took the lead for good with a 3-0 run to go up 21-18. UCI had 3 more aces in the set.
"This was a great match," said UC Irvine head coach John Speraw. "Contrary to most people watching, it wasn't pretty and I loved that it wasn't pretty. We've been in the Final Four before and had some matches where we didn't play as well as we hoped to play and I felt like that's always been a great learning experience for us."
Said Tillie: "We were fired up at the beginning. We made some errors in the first set and looked at each other, and after the start of the second we were ready to go. We got fired up and played our game a little more."
"I thought UC Irvine showed some resiliency in the game four comeback and wouldn't let us take control," said Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik. "The match itself was one of the stranger matches I've seen. We knew it'd be streaky. I thought Irvine did a better job handling our serves over the course of the match. In game one, we out-passed and out-served them. I thought the winner would be the team that passed and served the best, and that held true."