UC Irvine swept USC on Saturday to win the 2012 NCAA championship – its third national title in the last six years.
Check out the postmatch news conference following the Anteaters’ victory.
Bill Ferguson, USC coach: On the USC side of it we’re disappointed to come up short in this match. Congratulations to Irvine. They were the better team tonight. I am unbelievably proud of the way this team played not only tonight but all year long. I’m unbelievably proud of the way they responded to some adversity tonight. I thought our guys did a fantastic job of most of it. Out hitting and out blocking them through the second set. Carson [Clark] was hitting big numbers but that wasn’t part of the gameplan. We had slowed [Kevin] Tillie down and Dan McDonnell was great and Scott Kevorken was a nonfactor. So we were putting ourselves in position to win. We gave up too many big runs from the service line, especially in the first two sets, but we did a great job coming back. I thought we should have been playing longer in the first, second and third sets, but that wasn’t in the cards. I thought we fought hard. It’s disappointing but I’m still very, very proud of what we did out there and on the broader scale I thought the level of play was unbelievable. And the fan support for both teams was unbelievable. … The most important thing was all of us involved I hope everyone understands what an unbelievable thing that was for our game tonight. I don’t think there’s ever been an atmosphere like that for a national championship game. For two deuce sets, and when we came out on the bottom end of that, to be part of this with this group was something that everybody involved out there should be proud of. We took college volleyball to a new level tonight, and that’s something we’re very proud of. I told everybody that would listen that this was the most enjoyable team that I’ve ever coached. We were not the most talented team I’ve had since I’ve been here, but we worked and grinded and played volleyball the right way, and it was a pleasure to work with them. The leadership of Tony Ciarelli and Steve Shandrick was unbelievable. We’re not here without these two guys and I’m not talking about what they do on the court, I’m talking about what they do off the court as captains, leaders, mentors to our young guys, it’s truly phenomenal experience and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Q: What was your familiarity with some of the UC Irvine players?
BF: It was bittersweet. I coached Chris Austin in the USA High Performance program. That kid was a millimeter from not playing volleyball and he just set a team to a national champ.”
Q: Any frustration in reaching three Final Fours in the past four years without a title?
BF: There’s a level of frustration with not winning, but I’m really proud of what we’ve done. If you had talked to me about this team playing in a national championship match at the beginning of the year, I said we’d win the ones we should, and lose the ones we should and there’ll be a couple coin flips. I had hoped to finish in the top four in MPSF and host a quarterfinal match. Fortunately, these guys were unbelievable as a team and these guys were unbelievable as leaders. This whole body of work I’m incredibly proud of. To be here three times in six years,I think the only other guy who’s been there that much was the guy we were paying against. We’ve done it with essentially three different coaching staffs and three largely different teams. I wanted to win this match really badly, but if I take a step back and get realistic, I’m unbelievably proud to be here.
Q: Tony want was your thoughts on tonight’s match?
Tony Carelli, USC outside attacker: I thought it was pretty clear that UCI was the better team. You have to give all the credit to them. They really peaked at the end of the season. They switched a few guys up during the season and it might have actually benefitted them to switch up. Dan McDonnell, Kevin Carroll, Kevin Tillie and Connor Hughes all could start on any team. To have four guys that can come in at any time and be the guys, it’s pretty unbelievable. McDonnell was MPSF First Team and he’s sitting on the bench for him. And Daniel Stork really sparked them versus Penn State. That’s two setters who can get it done. … Tonight we stopped Tillie and that was our goal. Carson Clark picked up his game. It’s the first time he’s hit 300 against us in my four years. They have 2 guys that can completely take over the game. When Tillie’s not playing well Carson plays well. When Carson isn’t on, Tillie picks it up. … People may see this as a three-game sweep, but I don’t see that at all. Two deuce sets is amazing for us against that team. Just look at the names on both of our teams. We’ve got Micah Christenson who was a top recruit. He deserved to be on that NCAA All-Tournament Team. He does more on this team than any freshman anywhere. … Their second outside, Hughes is probably the top recruit in his class, Tillie has international experience, Carson has been on world teams. If you look at it on paper, we don’t match up, but to go deuce sets with them shows how playing as a team as brothers really gets it done.”
Q: Can you talk about losing the lead in the second set?
TC: I thought they were playing unbelievably in the first game and did a lot of things we couldn’t stop. In that second game they couldn’t stay at that level. Toward the end they picked it up. They were doing a roller coaster in the first two games and then in that third game they stayed consistent the whole time.
John Speraw, UC Irvine coach: I think this was a good night for volleyball. Obviously I’m biased because we won, but the one stat I don’t see on this box score here was that we had 9,612. That’s the third largest crowd in history. It was a great match. Everyone will see it was 3-0 but everyone knows how close it really was all the way through. We didn’t get rattled and stayed very poised when we were down big in the second set. It was a tight emotional first game and we took a breath there. I think when we won that second game it was real tough for them. It’s hard when you have a lead and then you’re down 0-2. In the third we had lots of opportunities to take a big lead. We got tight and got down and I thought we’d be going four here. Then we had some key plays. We’re obviously ecstatic. It’s wonderful for our institution, a young school who’s never had the opportunity to have this many fans in one building at one time to see an event like this, to have all those fans there to be able to connect with the university and their alma mater and to have us come out on top is just a tremendous night for UC Irvine.
Q: Coach, can you talk about Connor Hughes’ performance?
JS: We talked about how this match would be different and the changes that would be made. In MPSFs we knew we had to win that match. We saw we could attack the middle of the court and that’s what we did. I just wanted to hammer the middle of the court. I had a very strong suspicion that was not going to be as available to us tonight. We had to be better at the pins and have Carson have a great night. And Connor Hughes played into that too. National championships are won with significant contributions by role players, and in some way I thought Tanner Janson had that night for USC. And tonight Connor had that night for us.
Q: What was the difference between your three national championship teams?
JS: Each team is so different. This team was unique in the fact that we had a lot of guys that were fairly new. Chris Austin is a JC guy didn’t play much in the fall and all of a sudden he’s starting. He had a tremendous season. Michael Brinkley and even Daniel Stork, it was their first times starting. It’s hard to be a first-year guy in this league. The thing that’s most notable about this team is just the team effort. This is my deepest team I’ve ever had and the best practice team I’ve had. We hardly had a bad day. That intensity and that depth is what sets this team apart from the others.”
Q: Connor, what’s your thoughts on Carson Clark’s play?
Connor Hughes, UC Irvine outside attacker: When he got those first coupe kills down he caught fire and no one in the league could stop him.
Q: Dan, same question about Carson Clark?
Dan McDonnell, UC Irvine middle attacker: He really brings energy to the team. Seeing Carson light up the ball and bounce it , it makes me want to do the same thing.
Q: Chris, what made the difference in the second set?
Chris Austin, UC Irvine setter: Honestly, Carson Clark. Carson annihilated a ball to the 11-foot line and I knew we had a shot . As soon as he hit that I thought of our depth. Nothing is impossible for us. This team is relentless in coming back in matches.
Q: What’s your thoughts on getting on a roll in this match Carson?
Carson Clark, UC Irvine outside attacker: The guys passed really well and that made it easy on Chris Austin. Chris set me probably the best match all year. I didn’t do much, he made it easy for me. Can’t thank him enough for that.
Q: Can you comment on your progression on the team?
CC: In ‘09 I kind of got to ride the tail there. I was the freshman and was fortunate to be in a great situation at our school. This time was different because it was more of a mental fight maintaining good emotions and managing frustrations…. Tonight we didn’t worry about anything but the next point.