For the second time in three years, the USC men's volleyball made it all the way to the NCAA Final Four only to fall in the final stage of competition -- this time to underdog UC Santa Barbara in the semifinal match on the campus of Penn State in State College, Pa.
The Trojans, ranked No. 1 in the nation all season long, hadn't lost a single match throughout the year in under five sets. But they lost in four Thursday, 29-27, 24-26, 25-15, 25-18, failing to recover from an opening-set loss to the Gauchos while fighting back to get set No. 2 but losing their edge in the final two sets. Errors -- 20 of the unforced manner -- were a big-time problem for USC's best players throughout the match, with Tony Ciarelli, Murphy Troy and Co. coming up empty on a number of attempts to stop UCSB runs and continue their own via serves.
UCSB, seeded fourth in the tourney after a remarkable run in the postseason tourney, also beat USC in the MPSF Finals last weekend at the Galen Center to earn an outright bid to the NCAA tourney. Despite the loss -- and in perhaps the best possible display of their early-season dominance -- the Trojans still earned the No. 1 overall seed to the Final Four, which also included Ohio State and Penn State.
UCSB will play Ohio State on Saturday in the national title game. Neither school has ever won a NCAA championship in men's volleyball.
It was the final collegiate match for two of USC's top three players, Troy and Tri Bourne, who combined for 38 kills in the loss. It was announced Wednesday that Troy earned the national player of the year award from collegiate volleyball's governing body, the AVCA, and Bourne earned first-team honors.
USC (23-4) ends its season with its most wins since 1999.