USC is projected by Off the Block to be No. 6 in the preseason national rankings.
Off the Block throughout December will reveal its projected men’s volleyball preseason top 10 national rankings and will profile a top-10 team each day. The Off the Block projected preseason rankings were created independently of the AVCA Coaches Poll and the Volleyball Magazine Top 10 Media Poll.
The college men’s volleyball season begins on Jan. 3 and concludes with the Final Four in May.
Check out what to know about USC as it enters the 2012 season.
2012 SEASON PROSPECTUS
Coach Bill Ferguson has three starters returning from last year for the upcoming season. Among the returning starters includes All-American outside attacker Tony Ciarelli. Ciarelli was in the nation’s top 25 with a 3.61 kills per game average last season. The senior also led the United States in kills at the Pan American Games in October. USC will also add freshman setter Micah Christenson to its starting lineup. Christenson, a Volleyball Magazine top 50 high school recruit, was the United States’ starting setter at the World Championships in August. The Trojans were projected to finish the conference in fifth place in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll.
2011 SEASON RECAP
The Trojans became the first team since 1995 to be ranked No. 1 throughout the entire regular season and won the MPSF regular season title. However, in the postseason USC was upset twice by UC Santa Barbara — once on its home court in the MPSF Tournament championship and then four days later in the NCAA Tournament semifinals. Despite the losses, it was the second time in the last three years that USC reached the Final Four. In addition, senior outside attacker Murphy Troy was named the AVCA Player of the Year.
EARLY-SEASON MATCH TO WATCH
USC will play a two-match road series against BYU on Jan. 20-21 in Provo, Utah. BYU was projected to win the conference championship in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll. The last time these teams played each other both were atop the national rankings and the Trojans swept the two-match series against the Cougars. For more on USC’s upcoming schedule, check out the team’s complete schedule breakdown.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH BILL FERGUSON
Off the Block: Coach, your team competed in a couple preseason tournaments this fall. How do you feel the preseason went for your team?
Bill Ferguson: It went well. We obviously had a lot of questions to answer with regards to the four guys who are now playing professionally and needing to replace those guys, and we really had to find someone who was going to set our team. We went into the fall preseason thinking it would be a battle between Jeff Carlson and Micah Christenson to set us this year and it looks like Micah is our guy. Carlson is one of the guys who we are going to use by playing him on the outside. Carlson is an all-round athlete. He played at the World Championships and World University Games in beach volleyball and brings a high level of the skill to the court. With Steven Mochalski and Cristian Rivera we are going to have depth at outside this year and they are guys we are going to have competing to start. The other outside attacker who will be starting is Tony [Ciarelli]. At opposite we also used Maddison McKibbin and Tanner Jansen both in the fall and the battle for starting opposite has been competitive. We’ve also used Robert Feathers through the fall at middle attacker, opposite of [Steven] Shandrick. … We are a much different group than we have been the last two years.
OTB: Talking about Christenson, a lot of college volleyball fans got to see the freshman this summer as the starting setter for the United States at the World Championships. Has that international experience helped him transition to the college game?
BF: It’s been huge. If you look at the history of men’s college volleyball, it used to be that you’d have to recruit internationally to find players that could play and significantly contribute right away as freshmen. What you’ve gotten a lot the last decade is USA Volleyball setting up a pipeline. Ten years ago you would have never had young West Coast players get this many international matches under their belt. It’s almost like they are foreign players that have that experience already, and a lot of those guys [with Christenson] this year are going to be in the same situation. Aaron Russell is going to have a massive impact for Penn State this year. And at setter you are starting to see players who really know how to run a much better system now when you look at setters like Micah and Matt West [at Pepperdine]. You have a cluster of great young setters and that is something we haven’t seen since Lloy Ball in the 1990s.
OTB: You talked a lot about the new starters this year. How different has it been for you as a coach at practice to coach a younger team as opposed to a more veteran team like you had last year?
BF: We are trying to teach more system and philosophy and technique this year. Last year at this time it was mostly fine tuning with so many returning players. One of the things we did last year was we made some minor changes with Murhpy’s swing which helped him. … Overall I would say last year was more tuning and refining and this year is a lot more coaching and technical system teaching.
OTB: One of the staters you do have returning from last year’s team is Tony Ciarelli. What are your expectations for Ciarelli this year?
BF: I think Tony is going to have a phenomenal year. The last two summers he has made massive improvements and last season those served him well. He is used to playing throughout his time in high school and club as that front-line guy and carrying a massive load, more than he had to do for us the last few years. He is more comfortable when he is that focal point and that will serve him well. He’s a tremendous leader and that is a role he hasn’t had the last few years. Tony and Steven Shandrick were named co-captains and they have done a phenomenal job through the fall. This situation is going to serve him well. He sees the light at the end of the tunnel, and he has a bright future. He sees that, and he is in a really good situation on the floor with USC.
OTB: Are you concerned that with so many new starters that your team might struggle at the beginning of the season?
BF: You think we’ll do well. We will have some struggles. That first part of our schedule is just brutal. We are going to have some young guys playing and that experience at the beginning of the season of playing top teams will serve us well. We will be in the hunt towards the end. I think we are going to grow a lot as a team throughout the season.