USC Men's Volleyball 2013 Outlook
Jan. 2, 2013
Youth will be served--literally--on the 2013 USC men's volleyball team.
Fourteen years ago, that exact verbiage was used to begin the season outlook in the USC men's volleyball guide. Those 1999 senior-less Trojans ended up having a very successful campaign, finishing second in the always-tough Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and falling one win short of advancing to the NCAA Championships.
The 2013 Trojans are equally young, with just one senior (he will redshirt) on a 23-man roster that includes 18 underclassmen. There are 10 freshmen, including 8 in their first year at USC. Despite such greenness, this year's team is looking to have a season as successful as the 1999 youngsters...and then some.
After all, that is the norm again at USC, which owns 4 NCAA crowns and 14 NCAA Final Four appearances. After taking a step back in the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s, the Trojan program has risen back among the nation's elite under seventh-year head coach Bill Ferguson, a two-time National Coach of the Year. Troy has made three trips to the NCAA Final Four in the past four years, including last season's runner-up finish as the team went 24-6 overall and won its second consecutive MPSF regular season crown with an 18-4 mark.
Four starters and the libero--and 12 letterwinners in all--return from the 2012 squad. But USC will be challenged to replace 2012 National Player of the Year Tony Ciarelli at outside hitter and 2012 All-American second team middle blocker Steven Shandrick, among others.
"Although we have some key players returning from a very good team, we lost several outstanding players and we now have a very young roster," said Ferguson. "But we have a good system in place here that has proven successful in the past."
In reality, the 2013 USC club could resemble Ferguson's 2009 version, which had 17 underclassmen on the 23-man roster. That team grew as the season progressed to the point where it won the MPSF tourney and got to the NCAA Championship match.
"Our 2012 team will have elements of that 2009 team," said Ferguson, who is aided by assistant coaches Jeff Nygaard, Cameron Green and John Xie. "We have lots of talented, athletic young players coupled with a small core of tested veterans. Like in 2009, it will take us some time to grow and develop as a team this year. I expect that there will be a learning curve in the first third of this season, then we'll solidify our play in the middle third and have the potential to take off in the final third.
"Our goal remains the same as it is every year: We expect to be at the NCAA Final Four competing for the national championship. That is a realistic goal."
Guiding the Trojans again is 6-5 sophomore setter Micah Christenson, last season's National Newcomer of the Year and MPSF Freshman of the Year who earned All-American second team acclaim. Besides his team-best 1,097 assists in 2012, he was second on USC in digs (173) and third in both blocks (76) and aces (12).
"There is no doubt that Micah has the ability to be the best setter in the country," said Ferguson. "I expect him to take a more prominent role this year in leading our team on and off the court."
Back for his third year as USC's libero is 6-3 junior Henry Cassiday. The 2012 All-American second teamer had a team-best 199 digs and just 35 reception errors on 607 passes last year. He is coming off post-season hip surgery that sidelined him for USC's Final Four matches last spring, but he is healthy and even spent some time this past fall in practices working at outside hitter.
"Like Micah, I'm counting on Henry to take a key leadership role with this team," said Ferguson. "Through his play, he is such a presence on the floor as a leader."
Robert Feathers, a 6-8 sophomore middle blocker, returns after being named the National Blocker of the Year in 2012. He led the nation in blocking average (1.60) as he recorded a team-best 154 blocks (both were USC rally scoring era records), and he added 101 kills while hitting .324.
"Robert continues to get better and should build off of the outstanding showing he had last season," said Ferguson. "We will ask him to play a bigger role for us now and we'll do some different things with him."
Tanner Jansen, a 6-5 junior, is back as the opposite hitter after getting 212 kills (second on USC) while hitting .291 last spring, plus 102 digs, 67 blocks and 11 aces.
"Tanner will play a bigger role in our offense this year and I expect him to step up to meet that challenge," said Ferguson. "His experience in our stretch run last year will be huge for us this season."
Maddison McKibbin, a 6-4 outside hitter and opposite hitter who has 31 career starts, is the team's lone senior, but he likely will redshirt this season while recovering from a stress fracture in his shin. In 2012, when he started 13 times and had 125 kills, 72 digs, 45 blocks and 6 aces, his return from an early ankle sprain was the catalyst to the Trojans' 18-match winning streak.
"Despite the likelihood that he will redshirt this year, Maddison continues to be a team leader in the locker room and in the gym," said Ferguson. "We will miss his experience and his on-court presence."
Among those from last year's roster looking to move into a starting outside hitter role are a trio of sophomores: 6-6 Cristian Rivera, who saw action in 5 matches last season after playing for Puerto Rico in various international competitions the past 4 years, 6-6 Joey Booth, who missed most of 2012 with a shoulder injury (he played in 2 early-season matches), and 6-8 Chris Lischke, who appeared in 6 matches last year as a backup middle blocker but will be used on the outside and at opposite in 2013. Also in the outside hitter mix is 6-7 redshirt freshman Austin Rysyk.
"Cristian is poised to step up and take a prominent role on our team," said Ferguson. "His international experience has made him a very polished player. Joey is one of our most athletic outsides and, now that his shoulder is healthy, he should compete for playing time. Chris is an invaluable component to our team because of his versatility on the court and his character off of it. Austin probably made the biggest improvement from last year of any of our players. He is one of our strongest pin attackers and has a chance to play a key role for us."
"Ben had a great fall and is heavily in the mix to start," said Ferguson. "He is a workhorse in the gym and weightroom. Tyler also did well in the fall and continues to improve. He is a very smart player and may be our best blocking middle. He is working on his attacking and should see some court time. "
Returnees Chris Trefzger, a 6-3 junior who saw time in 5 matches in 2012, and 6-2 sophomore Robbie McKnight will work behind Christenson at setter (McKnight can also play opposite), while looking to back up Cassiday at libero will be 6-0 junior J.B. Green, who played in 7 matches last year (including starting both Final Four matches for an injured Cassiday), and 6-3 soph Paul Yoder, who can also play outside hitter. Yoder has 5 relatives who have played college volleyball, including 3 at USC.
"Chris is one of the most solid teammates you could ask for," said Ferguson. "He does everything the right way. Besides the depth he provides at setter, he helps lead our team on and off the court and he pushes them in the gym. Robbie finished strong this fall and, although he is a proven setter, he played his way into the competition at opposite hitter. J.B. is looking to build on a great end of 2012 when he filled in admirably in the NCAAs. He is in a dogfight to be one of our liberos. Paul is a great team player who could see time as a serving specialist and defensive specialist."
USC's talented freshman class will battle to make an immediate impact.
A quartet of prep All-Americans--6-3 Chris Orenic and 6-4 Alex Slaught, both outside hitters, along with 6-1 libero Brooks Varni and 6-5 setter Michael Mullahey--hail from Southern California's pre-eminent high school volleyball powers. Orenic and Varni helped Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach (Calif.) win the 2012 CIF Division I title by defeating Slaught and Mullahey's Loyola High of Los Angeles (Calif.). Mullahey, who was the National High School Player of the Year in 2012, Orenic and Slaught all have experience playing on various USA Volleyball Youth national squads. Mullahey and Orenic also helped their 17s club team win a gold medal at the 2011 Junior Olympics. Orenic was sidelined this past fall with a wrist injury from high school, while Mullahey was bothered with a broken finger.
"We are looking forward to Chris becoming a factor for us once his wrist injury heals," said Ferguson. "He is a winner and has a really bright future. Alex had an outstanding fall for a freshman. He just kept improving and will compete to start now. Brooks also had a super fall and will battle to be one of our liberos. He has been a winner at every level he has played. Michael should continue to develop as he overcomes the finger injury. He has a good future here."
True frosh in the mix at middle blocker are 6-6 Josh Kirchner of Hamilton High in Sussex (Wisc.), 6-8 Tommy Leonard of Barrington (Ill.) High and 6-8 Tyler Ortman of Carlsbad (Calif.) High (he can also play opposite). Kirchner was on the 2011 U.S. Youth National team and won a gold medal at the 2010 Junior Olympics in the 16s division. Ortman might redshirt.
"Josh quietly established himself as one of our prominent middle blockers," said Ferguson. "I expect him to play an important role for us this season. Tommy improved greatly this fall and will compete for time. I really like his future. The sky is the limit for Tyler. He is our most athletic big man. We might redshirt him and, with his great arm, start training him at opposite hitter."
Chris Andrulis, a 6-6 redshirt freshman, will compete at opposite hitter after transferring from UC San Diego (he started the Tritons' first 2 matches of 2012 before a season-ending stress fracture in his back allowed him to get redshirt).
"Chris spent most of the fall rehabbing from his back injury," said Ferguson. "We feel he has the ability when healthy to compete for time at opposite."
Besides all the new players, there will be two new elements to the USC volleyball program in 2012: an expanded MPSF and increased television coverage. Cal Baptist, which has won 5 of 9 all-time matches against the Trojans, joins the MPSF roster. Five USC matches will be aired live nationally on the new Pac-12 Networks, with the remaining home matches streamed live through the Pac-12.com portal.