No. 1 USC to host UC Irvine in semifinals

first_imgThe No. 1 USC men’s volleyball team is primed to continue its run in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament Thursday, as it hosts No. 2 UC Irvine in a semifinal match at the Galen Center. at 7:30 p.m.The Trojans (22-2, 20-2) have enjoyed success against the Anteaters (19-11, 14-8) as of late, winning the last four matches.But the Anteaters have improved significantly during the last stretch of the season.Irvine, which is the No. 4 seed, is the next highest ranked team left in the MPSF tournament after both No. 2 BYU and No. 3 Stanford were upset in the first round.Irvine’s strength lies in its serving, leading the conference in serving aces through most of the year. The Anteaters have also developed from a bottom-feeder blocking team into one of the top blocking teams in the conference during the last stretch of the season.“At this point in the season, there’s fewer wrinkles in strategy and more emphasis on execution,” said USC coach Bill Ferguson. “It’s natural that they improve their blocking.”The match is an opportunity for playoff redemption, as UC Irvine eliminated USC in a 2008 play-in match and in 2009 in the national title match.“We were just coming of age back then,” Ferguson said. “They had a lot of All-American upperclassmen back then and our main guys were just sophomores. We’ve grown up a lot since then. It’s a whole different matchup.”This season, the Trojans are tops in the conference in nearly every statistical category both offensively and defensively.Irvine’s offense and serving rank third and first in the conference, respectively. The Anteaters’ outside hitter-centric offense relies on quick outside sets. What they lack in a strong middle attack is remedied by their ability to find holes and single blocks to hit through before the defense can be set.Opposite Carson Clark ranks second in the conference in kills and points overall. Outside hitter Corey Yoder was an All-MPSF First-Teamer and outside hitter Jordan DuFault is a two-time All American.As evidenced by the last four matches, however, the Trojans are unfazed by the Anteater attack.“It doesn’t matter who they have,” said junior middle blocker Steven Shandrick. “We’re so big, physical and smart as blockers and defenders that if we execute, we can outplay anyone.”Most recently, the Trojans won an electric first-round matchup in postseason play against No. 8 UCLA. The Bruins made a last-second lineup change and the Trojans were sucked into chronic mistakes in the first game, but they eventually regained their composure and won the match in convincing fashion.“It was good to get our first playoff win under our belts,” said senior setter Riley McKibbin. “We’re carrying in a lot of momentum from the end of the season and we’re ready for the next step.”last_img

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