We always want to beat our rival

Courtesy of John McGillen

The USC volleyball players know a lot of the crosstown Bruins from high school days, and that makes the rivalry more personal and special.

It’s Thursday, Sept. 26, and it’s about 4:30 in the afternoon. The world-famous USC Trojan Marching Band practices every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and I’m less than 50 yards from the practice field, sitting outside on the patio of our John McKay Center building.

It’s always great to hear our band on campus, but extra special when you get to hear them blare “Tusk’’ throughout University Park. Made famous by Fleetwood Mac’s collaboration with the USC band, Trojan fans have added to the legend of “Tusk’’ by chanting “U-C-L-A sucks” during the chorus.

While those obviously aren’t the real lyrics to the song, it sort of becomes a part of you when you get indoctrinated into campus life at USC, and I can’t help but crack a smile and chant along, especially after our win over the Bruins.

One of the great things about having a true crosstown rival is that it feels like the whole city and community come out to our matches. We had a raucous crowd at our match on Wednesday night, including USC fans, UCLA fans and local volleyball teams.

As a student-athlete, fun and energetic crowds are what you live for, and it’s definitely what I’ve come to expect for any sort of USC-UCLA matchup. It doesn’t matter if it’s a football game, a volleyball match or even the final results in a blood drive for charity, we always want to beat our rival.

Of course, lots of people hate their rival, but UCLA is our favorite conference team to play because a majority of us know Bruin players through clubs, high school and USA High Performance volleyball. The fact that we are friendly with our rival makes it that much more personal of a match for us to win.

On the flip side, the hardest thing about facing the Bruins is the effort we put in to not getting too amped up for the match. We started preparing for UCLA on Sunday, and by Tuesday, I was in film thinking, Isn’t it game time yet? If you let the intensity build up too much, you’re going to play on an emotional roller coaster and typically not have a good game.

Personally, I find the best solution to keeping my emotions in check is to practice with quiet intensity and to keep my mood light and fun. When I walked into the locker room on game day, I was quiet for a good half hour and just leveled my head and thoughts for the battle to come.

After our serve-and-pass session and our pregame meal, I did my normal locker room routine to keep myself in rhythm. Once you get on the court, it’s all about establishing good feels -- good touch on the ball, good technique, a clear game plan -- and you’ll feel unstoppable.

Our team did a good job exhibiting patience against UCLA. When we were neck-and-neck with the Bruins, we didn’t let emotions get the better of us. We just fought for the next ball.

Beating our rival was special, but we can’t celebrate for long. We have to refocus and get ready for the next one. One match at a time.