first_imgWrapping up a regular season that has been filled with highs and lows, the men’s volleyball team will look to end conference play on one more high note this weekend. The No. 8 Trojans will have a home-and-home series with unranked Cal Baptist today and Saturday before heading into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference tournament.Cal Baptist (6-20, 2-18 MPSF) is the only conference rival that has yet to face the Trojans (16-8, 13-7) this season. The Trojans currently sit in fourth place in the conference standings, while Cal Baptist is second-to-last.The Trojans beat the Lancers in four sets (25-13, 25-22, 21-25, 25-21) at home last year and then took all three sets (25-22, 25-21, 25-22) at Cal Baptist.Two wins this weekend against Cal Baptist would guarantee that the Trojans can maintain their fourth place ranking in the conference standings. The teams with the eight best records in conference play out of the 12-team conference will qualify for the conference tournament. The winner of the conference tournament earns an automatic bid to the NCAA national championship tournament.The NCAA tournament features six teams, with four conferences having automatic bids and two        at-large bids up for grabs.Finishing in the top four would guarantee that the Trojans host the first round of the MPSF playoffs. In his weekly media recap, Coach Bill Ferguson said this would be crucial to the chances of the team winning the tournament.“That’s huge,” Ferguson said. “When we set out every year, we want to win the national championship, and the first way to do that is to finish in the top four of the MPSF.”The eight-team, three-round MPSF tournament happens over the course of two weekends. The quarterfinals are all played at the home court of the four higher seeds. The semifinals and finals are both hosted the following week at the home court of the top overall seed.This season, the Trojans are 10-3 at home but 6-5 on the road.“Everything is a little more advantageous when you’re at home, so that’s the goal,” Ferguson said.The last time the Trojans qualified for the NCAA tournament was in 2012. The Trojans finished the season in first place in the MPSF, swept Cal State Northridge in the first round of the tournament and then were upset by fourth-seeded UC Irvine in the semifinals. The Trojans nonetheless earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, advancing to the national championship game but falling again to UC Irvine in the final.Last year, the Trojans qualified for the MPSF tournament as the final seed but were knocked out by top-seeded BYU in the first round. In 2013, the Trojans did not qualify for the MPSF tournament.“We’d obviously like to win it every year, but to finish top four and to host that first round playoff match and to get things going, we’ve had tremendous success when we host a first round playoff match,” Ferguson said. “If we’re finishing in the top four of the most competitive athletic conference in all of college sports, then we’re feeling like we’re on the right track.”The Trojans currently sit behind No. 1 Hawai’i (23-3, 18-2), No. 4 UC Irvine (24-4, 18-3) and No. 2 Pepperdine (22-4, 17-4) in the MPSF standings. Just trailing the Trojans are fifth place and No. 6-ranked BYU (15-9, 12-8). No. 9 UC Santa Barbara (15-9, 11-9), currently in sixth place, could also hypothetically jump the Trojans for fourth place. USC will need to win both remaining matches to guarantee the fourth place spot.USC has split with all five of the other MPSF teams in the top six spots of the conference standings.Last week, the Trojans had a relatively relaxed schedule, with only one non-conference match. The Trojans took down Concordia in four sets (25-22, 23-25, 25-21, 26-24) using a roster primarily of backups.Junior outside hitter Alex Slaught led the team with 19 kills, with senior opposite Cristian Rivera and freshman outside hitter Jack Wyett adding 15 kills each. Redshirt sophomore Michael Mullahey got the start at setter and recorded 54 assists. Redshirt freshman libero Riley Mallon pitched in 10 digs.Usual starters like senior setter Micah Christenson, senior middle blocker Robert Feathers, junior libero Brooks Varni and sophomore middle blocker Andy Benesh had the night off. Ferguson also said that the team had a couple days off during that week of practice.The Trojans began the season on a seven-game winning streak, climbing as high as No. 2 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association national poll, but faced much more difficulty through the latter half of conference play. Nonetheless, the Trojans have proven that they can compete against the top teams in the country with three victories over top five teams, including a win over                               top-ranked Hawai’i.The Trojans visit Cal Baptist today at 7 p.m., then host the Lancers at the same time on Saturday.last_img

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