USC Men's Volleyball Falls In 5 Sets In NCAA Title Match
May 9, 2009
It took 5 hard-fought sets, but the top-ranked UC Irvine men's volleyball team ended No. 4 USC's Cinderella post-season run by posting a 26-30, 30-23, 26-30, 30-17, 15-12 comeback victory to win the 2009 NCAA championship on Saturday (May 9) before 3,015 fans in Provo, Utah.
The Anteaters improved to 27-5 while winning their second NCAA crown in the past 3 years. UCI avenged a 3-0 home loss to USC 9 days earlier in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament that snapped the Anteaters' 10-match winning streak over the Trojans.
USC, which was making its first NCAA Final Four appearance since 1991, finished its season at 21-11. The Trojans were denied their fifth NCAA title, having last won it in 1990.
The loss ended a remarkable post-season run for the Trojans. After losing 4 of their last 6 regular-season matches (all on the road), USC was an upset winner of last week's MPSF Tournament. The Trojans did so by first overcoming a 2-0 deficit to win at No. 4 Stanford, then blanking No. 1 UC Irvine on the Anteaters' home court in the MPSF semis and finally defeating No. 2 Pepperdine in a dramatic 5-set championship match. That propelled USC into the NCAA tourney, where the Trojans defeated defending NCAA champ Penn State, 3-1, in the semis on Thursday (May 7).
"Well, the clock struck midnight on us," said third-year USC head coach Bill Ferguson. "My hat's off to UC Irvine. We had a phenomenal run, but this one will be tough to swallow. I'm proud of what we've done, but we're not done yet. We expect to be here the next several years and hopefully we'll get it together at the very end.
"We're back on the map and that's the first step. Our players showed an unbelievable amount of character. We came darn close to beating the No. 1 team again for the national championship. We'll bounce back."
The fact that USC made it to the NCAA championship match was even more amazing considering the Trojans--who finished tied for fifth in the MPSF standings--entered 2009 picked sixth in the MPSF pre-season poll and seventh in the AVCA national pre-season poll. USC had averaged just 9 wins in each of its previous 7 seasons.
USC nearly pulled off the upset on Saturday, owning a 2-1 lead on the Anteaters after 3 sets. And the Trojans were up 8-6 in the fifth set before UCI tied it at 8-8. Then, once the score was knotted at 10-10, the Anteaters gained the final cushion by scoring the next 3 points, aided by a pair of USC hitting errors.
UC Irvine hit .342 in the match to USC's .296 and held a significant edge in blocks, 20.5 to 7.5. The Trojans also had 22 serving errors and only 2 aces, while the Anteaters had just 11 serving errors to go with 4 aces.
Last week in their MPSF semifinal meeting, USC had a season-high 12 aces and just 6 serving errors.
"The bottom line is we missed 22 serves and only had 2 aces," said Ferguson. "We weren't able to get in rhythm blocking or on defense, so we didn't put any pressure on them.
"They also served us out of system. They made us 3-dimensional, when we've been a 4-dimensional team. They were able to block us consistently and they served well.
"The way they passed and our serving errors were the difference. And they did a good job of frustrating some of our hitters."
USC's Murphy Troy had a match-best 26 kills while hitting .367 and added 6 digs. Austin Zahn hit .700 with 15 kills and 3 blocks, Tony Ciarelli also had 15 kills, Tri Bourne had 12 kills, 6 digs and 4 blocks, Hunter Current had 9 kills and 4 blocks and Riley McKibbin had 13 digs and 71 assists.
Luke Morris had a match-leading 15 digs to up his season total to 315, breaking Dave Yoder's 22-year-old USC season record of 301 in 1987. Morris, a senior, also increased his USC career dig record to 1,042.
For UCI, Taylor Wilson had 21 kills (hitting .375) and 6 blocks, Carson Clark added 15 kills and 9 digs, Jordan Dufault had 14 kills and 11 digs and Ryan Ammerman had 13 blocks along with 55 assists, 6 kills and 5 digs.
Ammerman was named the MVP of the NCAA All-Tournament team. Joining him on that team were USC's Troy, Zahn and McKibbin and UCI's Wilson and Clark, along with Will Price from Penn State.
The first set stayed tight throughout until USC broke a 22-22 tie with 3 points in a row, allowing the Trojans to hold that margin to the end. USC hit .361 in that set.
UCI used a 7-0 run to go up 14-8 in the second set and the Anteaters cruised in from there while hitting .406 and getting 8.5 blocks. The Trojans had 6 serving errors in that set.
USC never trailed in the third set, jumping out to a 5-1 lead and holding off the Anteaters while hitting .583.
UCI totally dominated the fourth set, using a 4-0 run to open a 7-3 lead and steadily pulling away. The Anteaters hit .393 to USC's -.034 and had 6.5 blocks as the Trojans rested most of their starters when the score got out of hand.
"That was an epic battle," said UC Irvine head coach John Speraw. "I think people will be talking about that match for a very long time. I know I will.
"When we were down 2-1, some teams would pack it in, but this team didn't. We did a much better job of taking away their tendencies. The difference was we were able to contain their servers. We usually talk about getting on runs. But I felt this match was all about winning one point at a time."