Trojans off to best start in 24 years, undefeated

Sep 17, 2020 xlrpdwto

first_imgBehind only the defending national champions in the national poll, the undefeated men’s volleyball team is off to its hottest start in 24 years. After closing out a two-game home stand last week without dropping a set, the team will fly to Honolulu today for two matches against Hawai’i.The No. 2 Trojans (7-0, 6-0 MPSF), who defeated Long Beach State last Wednesday in three sets then swept Cal State Northridge Friday, can maintain a lock on first place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings if they can come back with two more victories.No. 6 Hawai’i (6-2, 3-1) lost both matches to USC last year, taking only one set during the Rainbow Warriors’ trip out to Los Angeles. Head coach Bill Ferguson said it will be crucial for the Trojans to control the energy during the road trip because Hawai’i plays very well in front of its home crowd.“Hawai’i at home is an almost entirely different team than on the road,” Ferguson said. “It’s the best volleyball crowd in America, bar none. They really get behind their team and give them a lift. They’re good for about three points a set.”Despite entering slightly hostile territory on the court, it will still be a nice homecoming for senior setter Micah Christenson, freshman outside hitter Larry Tuileta and redshirt junior middle blocker Tyler Cundiff       — all Honolulu natives.The last time the Trojans were in Hawaii they dropped both matches in five sets. In both matches, the Trojans took the first two sets and dominated for most of the third, but it wasn’t enough to match Hawai’i and their support from their home crowd.“Hawai’i fans are so loyal, so helpful to that team,” Christenson said. “They really feed off of it.”Ferguson added that, much like the Trojans, the Rainbow Warriors serve very aggressively and a key to the game will be who can receive serves better.“Hawai’i has some guys that can really get after it from the service line. We’ve been able to pass well and we’re going to need to against Hawai’i because they can serve the daylights out of the ball.”Tuileta and Hawai’i’s sophomore outside hitter Kupono Fey were high school teammates, earning two state championships and two Interscholastic League of Honolulu titles together at Punahou in three years. This will be the first time that the two match up on the court for their respective universities; it will definitely be a change from the time the two were dominating the net for Punahou.The Trojans’ offense, run by redshirt sophomore Christopher Orenic, senior middle blocker Robert Feathers and junior outside hitter Alex Slaught, continues to dominate the net so much so that other teams just can’t seem to contain them. They are averaging 12.9 kills per set with an attack percentage of .323, while holding their opponents to an average of 10.2 kills per set and .166 hitting percentage.In accord with the season, the Trojans are averaging 1.6 aces per set. Christenson continues to dominate the serving with 14 aces on the season averaging .54 per set. The dominance from the back line proves successful for the Trojans.Hawai’i currently sits in fourth place in MPSF standings. Hawai’i took both matches from UC Santa Barbara at home in four sets then split matches at UC Irvine, winning one in four sets but losing one in straight sets.The Rainbow Warriors are led by junior outside hitter Sinisa Zarkovic, senior opposite Brook Sedore and redshirt senior middle blocker Taylor Averill on offense. As a team, Hawai’i averages 13.2 kills per set — more than the Trojans — but their opponents average 13.6 kills per set, which should benefit the Trojans. They also have an average attack percentage of .308, while their opponents average an attack percentage of .287.Similar to USC, Hawai’i also has success from the service line, averaging 1.1 aces per set. Ferguson pointed out that it will be important for USC to be balanced and focus on passing the ball well, like they’ve been doing recently.“Hawai’i has some guys that can really go after it,” Ferguson said. “They can serve the daylights out of the ball.”The Trojans won at UC Irvine in five sets earlier this year but have not yet hit Santa Barbara. UC Irvine is tied for fourth in MPSF standings with Hawai’i, and BYU and Pepperdine are tied for second place at 5-1. Pepperdine’s only conference loss was at USC in four sets earlier this year and BYU will come to town for two matches next week.The top eight teams in the conference will qualify for the MPSF tournament, with the order of seeding determining home-court advantage. The winner of the MPSF tournament will automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament. One automatic qualifier from each of the four Division I conferences will earn a tournament bid and two at large bids will be given.Last year, the Trojans finished 14-10 in the conference, grabbing the last spot in the MPSF tournament. However, they were eliminated by BYU, the regular season winner of the conference, in the first round of the tournament. BYU went on to win the tournament, while Stanford, runner-up in the tournament, grabbed one of the at-large bids. Loyola-Chicago, the only team the Trojans currently trail in the national poll, went on to win the national title.Last week, Cal State Northridge (4-5, 2-3 MPSF) came to the Galen Center unranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 15 national poll. However, the Matadors were one of three unranked teams receiving votes in the poll. In the most recent poll, the Matadors were still unranked but receiving votes. The Matadors currently sit in seventh place in the MPSF standings.The Matadors upset the Trojans last year at home, winning in straight sets. The Trojans returned the favor when they hosted the Matadors and also won in three sets.Ferguson compared the team’s performance to that of the Seattle Seahawks under former USC football coach Pete Carroll, saying the Trojans kept a simple game plan but executed really well on defense.“We didn’t do anything complicated,” he said. “You listen to Coach Carroll talk about the Seahawks, they talk about doing their thing, and tonight that was us. We didn’t throw a whole lot of different stuff at them, we were just really good at reading what they were doing and getting in front of their attackers as blockers and really affecting what they were doing.”The Trojans honored two former Players of the Year, Tom Duke (1988) and Bryan Ivie (1990, 1991), after the match by retiring their jerseys. Both were members of the 1988 national championship team and Ivie won a second national title in 1990. Duke holds the record for the highest hitting percentage in a game with .941. Ivie holds the record for most career kills with 2,380, single season kills with 770, career blocks with 661 and single season blocks with 199. Ivie also won a bronze medal with the U.S. national team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.On Saturday, the Trojans honored Bob Yoder, former player and head coach for the Trojans, at the second annual “Ernie Event” in the Founders Room of the Galen Center. Yoder won the national championship as a player in 1977 then was the head coach of the 1988 national championship winning team. Yoder’s nephews Lucas and Jack are both sophomores on the 2015 team. The Ernie Event is named after legendary former men’s volleyball coach Ernie Hix.The first match against Hawai’i is today at 10 p.m. local time, 7 p.m. Hawaiian time. The two teams play again at the same time on Friday.last_img

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