Q&A with USC at the men’s volleyball NCAA Tournament
USC coach Bill Ferguson and senior co-captains Murphy Troy and Riley McKibbin held a news conference Wednesday to discuss their upcoming NCAA Tournament match.
The No. 1 seed USC will play the No. 4 seed UC Santa Barbara in the NCAA Tournament semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday in University Park, Pa.
The Trojans became the first team in 16 years to be ranked No. 1 from the preseason to the end of the regular season. This national semifinals match will also be a rematch of the MPSF championship match, which UC Santa Barbara won in five games Saturday.
[Editor’s note: Transcript courtesy of the Penn State athletics department]
Bill Ferguson, coach: First of all I want to start off and thank Bob (Kimmel) and the committee for everything they have done for us to this point and thank Penn State for being great hosts. This is a great place to play, a great facility, and the red carpet has been rolled out. There is a lot of cool history in this building, a lot of great players have played here. The venue is really cool and we are excited about being here and excited about the surroundings and the place that we are playing. Obviously a lot of people have talked about us being here in the beginning of the year and we are thrilled to be here, but we’ve got some work to do and we have had a real good day-by-day type of mentality, match-by-match. We have a practice today, a serve and pass tomorrow and then we have a match tomorrow night and those are the things we are focusing on right now and that is really it. I’m excited about things and ready to move on.
Q: After losing on Saturday and not getting to the finals last year, how hungry is that making this team at this point?
Ferguson: Pretty hungry. The main thing was it got us back in our mode of how we have prepared all year and had our success. We’ve had a mentality this year and when we would get into practice this year we were focused on technique or a certain aspect of what we were focusing on in the gym and sometimes we would lose the drill in order to accomplish components within the drill that we were focusing in on getting better. That was something that these guys have done a phenomenal job with all year. Because of the match we had a practice on Monday which was something very similar to what we were doing in February. Our first team didn’t win the drill, however, we were working on a bunch of different things and we actually got a ton better. That has been the story of our whole season and our preparation. For me, getting back in the gym with the guys on Monday, that was great because after we won the Stanford match I think everyone knew we were going to be here. Nobody had ever won the regular season MPSF Championship and stumbled into the playoffs, they always ended up being the at-large team and our resume to that point was pretty good so it was a real tough mindset to really stick to the plan and still play at a high level. I think these guys did a fantastic job of that. Most of the games we played through the stretch of the season we won, some of them handedly and some of them close, but the mindset that these guys had was a testament to these guys. In essence, yeah we are fired up, but for us it was nice just to get back in the gym and focus on a few things and work on them and actually know that we got better at something.
Q: How much did you learn from your experience in 2009?
Ferguson: 2009 was huge in the sense that it gave us experience being at the big dance. The learning experience from 2010 and some of the approach we took to it and some of the lessons we learned. I think we learned more lessons in 2010 than 2009. 2009 was us playing with our butts on fire. We were just going to show up, play our butts off and whatever happens, happens. We were young, but we had talked about in the gym in 2009 that we were good enough to do this. I don’t know how much those guys bought into it, but I think they realized we had something there and that we were going to be a great team at some point. We just didn’t know what the timeline was. There wasn’t a finite timeline and then last year it was more goal-oriented and this year we’ve gone 180 degrees and we’ve been process-orientated. From your question before, if there was some ambiguity that’s because we don’t even talk about that kind of stuff in our gym. It’s all about the process and confidence in our process. That has been the main thing this year, confidence in our process. We will do some more film today and work on our schedule for tomorrow and then go from there. It is all step-by-step, pretty narrow blinders right now. That is the biggest thing in learning and the guys have been totally focused on the process rather than the end goal.
Q: With Penn State playing Ohio State, it guarantees a not west coast team playing in the finals. Do you think that does anything for the growth of the sport?
Ferguson: Absolutely. I think there is some west coast bias in volleyball. There is plenty of good volleyball being played and there are guys from lots of different programs that have done well for themselves around the country. Do we play in the hardest league in collegiate volleyball? Yeah we do, but that is not to say that there are not two unbelievable, quality programs in Penn State and Ohio State, both Pav and Pete have been doing this very well for a very long time and I would send my son, if he played volleyball, to play for either of those guys in a heartbeat. When you think about things on that plane, you have four great teams here in this tournament. I think it is great for the game and you have the cool Big Ten thing going on and there is nothing negative that can come of it this is only a good thing.
Q: How does being through this already two years ago help you now?
Riley McKibbin, setter: Maybe last time we got kind of got caught up in the excitement of the Final Four, but this time we’ve been there and our experience will enable us to be more focused and just playing instead of getting lost in all the excitement.
Q: Do you take being placed in the Penn State women’s volleyball team locker room as a good sign given their success?
McKibbin: For our team we are more focused on ourselves and trying not to play into the superstitions of other traditions and what not, but they definitely had a good run and we have watched them the past three years and followed their amazing success. Coach Ferguson was just talking about how some of the teams that have been in their locker room in the previous years have had a lot of success up here so we are happy about it, but the focus is on us.
Q: As upperclassman what do you tell the freshman and sophomores who haven’t been here before?
Murphy Troy, outside attacker: We have a very heavy upperclassmen team so for our freshmen and sophomores being part of this team throughout the whole year, they are not like your typical freshmen and sophomores. We all feel like we are on the same level now and everyone is just fired up.
Q: How would you compare the run you made this year to the one you made in 2009?
Troy: Obviously a lot different. In 2009 at the end of the year we knew the potential we had and we decided to put it all out there and sort of see what happened and a lot of good things happened from it. This year we made it a huge priority to be good all the time. In 2009 we had that relatively good short run and obviously one run isn’t going to do it for you so we wanted to be good all the time, every single day, every single practice. By focusing on that we let the results and the wins take care of themselves and that is definitely the biggest difference between then and now.
Q: Being the top team in the nation, do you come here expecting to win and if you do not will it be considered an unsuccessful season in your eyes?
Troy: There is a fine line between expecting to win and believing you are going to win. We don’t want to tread on that too much, but we are definitely always confident with what we do. We believe we have a really good product here that we have been working on all year and when we do things right and work really hard, execute and do the things that we plan on doing before the game, then we do believe we are going to be really successful. If we don’t win I don’t think you can say the whole season is a failure because we’ve done a lot of great things this year that we are really proud of. There is still one thing out there that we really want and that we’re going to try to get. Of course, there will be a lot of disappointment if that doesn’t happen, but I think any of the four teams in this tournament feel the same exact way. Two years ago when we made that run at the end we didn’t expect ourselves to win, no one really did, and the disappointment that came from that was enormous so we are going to try to keep doing what we do and be confident in what we do.