No margin for error
Life is full of lessons, right? For the USC men’s team, a big lesson was learned last season.
“Our guys had a willingness to use last year as a learning experience,” USC coach Bill Ferguson said. “They wanted to turn it into a positive. I think a real high level of expectations didn’t get met.”
Ferguson noted the Trojans didn’t kick things into high gear last year until the final six matches. USC finished 16-11 and lost in the MPSF tournament quarterfinals.
“To their credit, with six matches left they started to play good volleyball,” he said. “That was finally when I felt they got it together. They realized you just can’t turn it on at the end or when you want to put it to use.”
This year, the Trojans have been pedal to the metal from the get-go. USC was ranked No. 1 in the country heading into March.
“To a man, each guy worked their tails off in the summer,” Ferguson said. “They are better physically and mentally. These guys have been really fun to work with this year.”
Ferguson remembers intricate details from that stretch run and the matches that came before it.
“I choose to remember it so much so it doesn’t repeat itself,” he said. “I don’t think we’re haunted by it. It’s been a valuable tool that has allowed us to understand how slim of a margin for error there can be.”
USC, which has been stockpiling and harvesting talent since Ferguson’s arrival in the head-coaching chair, has also benefited from the increased experience his group possesses.
“It’s been really great putting all of the tools together these last few years,” Ferguson said. “Our seniors (Riley McKibbin, Murphy Troy, Sean Dennis, Austin Zahn and Tri Bourne) that have had a tremendous amount of success and have grown as players. This game is about the X’s and O’s but you also have to have the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s.”
This and That
BYU spokesman Duff Tittle tells Volleyball there is no update on the NCAA’s current internal review into the Cougars’ men’s program regarding possible violations… IPFW middle blocker Phil Peterson has returned to the starting lineup after taking a medical redshirt last season. Peterson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes… In addition to Penn State hosting the 2011 NCAA championships in May, USC will get its turn to host in 2012 at the Galen Center on campus… Through its first 12 matches of the season, George Mason has eclipsed its win total from all of 2010… Through late February, UC Santa Barbara was the only team with two hitters in the top 10 for kills in the MPSF. Senior outside Jeff Menzel and senior opposite Cullen Irons were both averaging 3.98 kills per set… In a Feb. 4 match against Pepperdine, three UC San Diego men’s records were broken. Senior setter Phil Bannan became the program’s all-time leader in assists and aces. Senior middle Calvin Ross became the program’s all-time leader in blocks… Lewis University has gone 14 extra points in a set for the last two seasons now. The Flyers won both matches with opposite Ian Karbiener getting the wining kill in both contests. Lewis won the third set against St. Francis in January by a 39-37 count. Last year, Lewis scored a 44-42 win in the opener against Juniata. There were 14 set points in the set.
The Go-To Guy
Penn State redshirt junior outside hitter Joe Sunder has seen his stats continue to skyrocket this season. At the start of March, Sunder was leading the Nittany Lions and was among the nation’s leaders in kills per set (4.96). He was also hitting .397. Sunder was an NCAA all-tournament team selection in 2010.
“I’ve just gone back to what I was doing in high school – being the go-to player,” said Sunder. “I like being the go-to guy rather than a role player.”
Sunder, a suburban Pittsburgh native, said playing out in Hawaii to start the season was a major help.
“Those first couple of matches in Hawaii helped get me into a rhythm,” he said. “Edgardo (Goas, Penn State’s setter) has been doing a good job of getting me as many sets as possible. Our connection keeps getting better and my swings keep getting better. We’re getting into a rhythm.”
Sunder was more than willing to wait for his turn in the spotlight.
“I knew it was kind of ahead of me,” he said. “We had two All-Americans leave and go play overseas. I had to step in and be a leader.”
Sunder has watched Penn State progress nicely this season.
“Other guys are starting to step up,” he noted. “I don’t need to be the go-to guy all the time. We’d like to get a nice and even distribution by the end of the year.”
Sunder is excited about Penn State playing host to the NCAA finals this season. Penn State last hosted in 2006.
“It’s good incentive to make it there,” he said. “It’s a driving force.”
A Good First Impression
One of the nation’s top freshmen this season has been BYU’s Taylor Sander. The 6-foot-4-inch Sander, a native of Norco, Calif., was second on the team in kills at the beginning of March.
“I’ve been gaining confidence and have been working hard in the gym and in practice. I’ve developed good habits,” Sander said. “All of that has helped me become a better player.”
Sander knows he will be a target when the opposition is at the service line.
“My passing has really improved,” he said. “I knew teams would be serving me so I was a little nervous at first. I’m a serving target, but I’m getting better with my passing.”
Sander noted the jump from high school to college has been a work in progress, but it’s something he feels that he can conquer.
“I like it,” he said. “It was a little bit of an adjustment at first. But I’m out there having fun and playing volleyball. You play volleyball and you work hard and when you work hard good things come to you.”
Facelift at Pauley
Both the UCLA men’s and women’s volleyball teams will be temporarily saying goodbye to one of the most famous volleyball arenas around. On April 1, all events will move out of Pauley Pavilion as renovations begin on the interior of the building.
Al Scates’ UCLA men’s squad will play its final three home matches in the Wooden Center and all of its 2011-2012 matches there as well. The women’s team will also call the Wooden Center home for a stretch.
Interior renovations will bring the four-plus-decade-old building up to modern standards. There will be an improvement in traffic flow from seating locations. There also will be an increase in the number of concession areas and restrooms – currently there is only one public restroom for each gender on the floor level. The seating capacity will increase and the floor-level seating bowl will be redesigned. Construction has been ongoing on the building’s exterior since April 2010.
The UCLA’s men’s basketball team will play its home games in three venues (L.A. Sports Arena, Staples Center and the Honda Center in Anaheim). Pauley Pavilion is slated to reopen for the 2012-2013 season.
Learning on the Job
UC Irvine standout opposite hitter Carson Clark had the opportunity to train with the U.S. Men’s National Team during the off-season. To say the least, Clark relished the opportunity.
“I got to go to Italy for the world championships,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing. The training helped me a lot and put me in a real good position with my career. Those are the best players in the world. The way the guys train and compete is completely different than the college level. There’s a higher work ethic there because they have families to support. These guys are able to play on the best teams in the world and get the best money possible so they can take care of their families and give them the things they need.”
Clark recalled one of the matches in Italy in particular.
“We went to Rome and just peppering in front of a crowd of 8,000 people is something that will get you going and get you fired up,” he said.
Clark has also been working on the mental aspect of his game.
“I’m managing my frustrations better,” he stated. “I’m taking care of what I need to do out there. I’ve become more mature as a player.”
Originally published in May 2011