To move into position to clinch a host’s role for the opening round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs, the Hawaii volleyball team needs to sweep its final regular-season series.
There is one significant problem: The Warriors’ opponent tonight and tomorrow night — top-ranked Southern California — has lost only one match this season.
That defeat, in five sets, was against Pepperdine nearly two months ago. Since then, the Trojans have won 12 in a row. They are 18-1 overall and 17-1 in the MPSF.
"We’re not going to look at USC’s record," UH outside hitter Joshua Walker said. "We know they’re No. 1. Regardless if they’re No. 1 or No. 8, we have to get through them to get to where we want to go."
UH coach Charlie Wade said: "It was the same situation when we played Stanford (to open the MPSF schedule). You always want to beat anybody you play. … They’ve put together a great season, no question. But I think we’re playing better than we’ve had all year."
>> Who: No. 1 USC (18-1, 17-1) at No. 8 Hawaii (14-11, 12-8).
USC has embraced the social network, posting updates on Twitter and Facebook accounts. Coach Bill Ferguson’s weekly announcements are recorded in his office and posted on YouTube. But one message is consistently delivered: USC has its eyes on the prize.
"When I grew up, SC was in the final four 11 out of 14 years," said Ferguson, acknowledging that was the "vision" he shared through the hiring process five years ago. "The goal is to get to where we can compete to be in the final four almost every year, and to compete to win national championships."
The Trojans have found success with strong Hawaii ties — three starters are from the islands, and Ferguson once worked for a Hawaii-based surf-apparel company — a balanced quick offense, and generous support.
"This is a place where you can be great in the classroom and athletically," said Ferguson, a reference to the $2 million a year the athletic department spends on its Student-Athletes Academic Services.
On the court, assistant coach J.J. Riley, a former All-America player at Pepperdine, has been instrumental in guiding setter Riley McKibbin, a senior from Punahou School.
McKibbin "has flourished under J.J.," Ferguson said. "They do a good job working together, which really helps, and I think (McKibbin) has good guys to go to every time."
With two Hawaii high school graduates as primary passers — libero Henry Cassiday (Punahou) and outside hitter Tri Bourne (Academy of the Pacific) — the Trojans run a quick offense that involves the middle attackers. Austin Zahn and Steven Shandrick combine to average more than 3.5 kills per set. That opens the way for pin hitters Bourne and Tony Clarelli on the left side and opposite Murphy Troy on the right.
"We try to be real balanced," Ferguson said. "As much pressure we can put on another team’s block and defense, the better. We feel if we can pass the ball, we’re going to be in pretty decent control. Then it’s up to us to execute."