Sunday, January 28, 2007

Taking a broom to the Bruins

If you know anything about collegiate men's volleyball, you know just how great UCLA is. Even though I'm a student at Southern California, as a volleyball fan I have to respect all that they've done.

When a school has won more national champions (19) than all other schools combined (18), that's impressive. Name me another sport in which one school has dominated like the Bruins? Here's a hint: there isn't anything that compares to this.

That's why last night's sweep of UCLA by the Men of Troy is a big deal. The Trojans dismantled the defending national champions (seriously, UCLA wins it all way too often. There should be a YMCA-style mercy rule excluding them from the championship just to give other schools a chance).

30-19, 31-29, 33-31. The biggest victory for USC volleyball since they last made the playoffs in 2001.

UCLA never led in game one, and barely held it in game two (a 1-0 lead that the Trojans quickly overcame). The Bruins had a strong third game, but USC fought off several Bruin game-points. To do that against a team that with the talent of UCLA shows just how much character and poise this Trojan team has gained.

It wasn't long ago that a USC men's volleyball team in the same situation might have crumbled under the pressure. Actually, those USC teams of past years may not have even been close enough to have the pressure on them. This team did, and they responded with the most clutch performance in recent history.

Freshman Hunter Current had several key blocks down the stretch in game three, and the Trojans hit a mind-boggling .533 for night. That's their TEAM HITTING PERCENTAGE. To put that in perspective for non-volleyball people, what would you think if your favorite baseball team (college or pro) had a team batting average of .533. Either the opposing pitcher lobbed everything over the plate, or that the hitters simply couldn't miss.

There's no pitcher in volleyball. And against UCLA, the Trojan hitters simply couldn't miss. In 92 hitting attempts, the Trojans committed four errors. Four! Had I not been there, I would have thought there was a typo on the stat sheet.

After the game, outside hitter Matt Anderson - who hit an flying .737 on the evening and matched his career high with 14 kills, including the match-winner - said he couldn't find the words to describe how great this win truly was. He wanted to "soak it all in" and enjoy the moment.

And why not? The last time USC's men's volleyball team won in Westwood (2000), setter Jimmy Killian was an eighth grader. Heck, the MPSF still used side-out scoring! It's been a while.

As if that wasn't impressive enough, the Trojans swept the Bruins for the first time since 1991 (15-12, 15-10, 15-12), and swept them at Pauly Pavilion for the first time since the national championship season of 1988. Two players on USC's roster weren't even born then (Chris Roche and Troy Tokuhama).

The Trojans simply seemed to want it more. This game had the chance to be a cornerstone win for USC this season. For the Bruins, it was just another match on their quest for another national championship. Think USC football versus UCLA this December. Oh, now you understand. Good.

USC Head Coach Bill Ferguson outcoached the legendary Al Scates - who won his first national championship in 1970 before Ferguson was born. Credit former USC coach Turhan Douglas for helping to build this foundation. The Trojans have the talent to compete and beat anyone in the nation.

Anderson said that after the team's loss to top-ranked UC Irvine earlier in the week, some members of the Anteaters said no team had played them as tough as the Trojans. If that's the case, then this team has a legitimate chance at not only making the postseason, but doing some damage in it.

The Trojans suffered a setback against UC San Diego a week ago, but with the way they've responded, it's not a stretch for them to still be playing in May. The lsat few seasons, Pepperdine, UCLA, BYU and other west coast schools have been able to overlook parts of their schedule labeled "USC", but this year that won't be the wisest of decisions.

The MPSF has been put on notice. The Trojans are back.

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