UCI Coach John Speraw believes USC, led by MPSF Player of the Year Tony Ciarelli and on an 18-match winning streak, still has something to prove this season. The Trojans' last loss was Feb. 3 to UCLA and their string of victories includes 13 sweeps.
"USC has had a great season," Speraw said. "They have a lot of Final Four experience and they have played without any pressure, which is a deadly combination."
Most of the pressure resides with UCI on Thursday. Should they lose, the Trojans, having secured the MPSF regular-season title, are the odds-on choice to receive the lone at-large berth into the four-team NCAA championships that will be played in their arena on May 3 and May 5.
UCI could earn an automatic NCAA berth by winning the tournament. A loss to USC would not leave the Anteaters out of the loop, however, depending on what happened the rest of the tournament.
Speraw administered high praise to UCLA senior setter Kyle Caldwell, a Newport Harbor High product, after Saturday's win.
"UCLA is a very unique team," Speraw said. "They have the most dominant offensive setter in maybe the history of the game [the 6-foot-9 Caldwell]. He is so offensive and that forces you to dedicate a blocker to the setter, which normally you never have to do. Even when you do, he still hits for such range."
Caldwell, a first-team All-MPSF performer, had 33 assists, three kills and three block assists in his final collegiate match.
Orange Coast College came up short in the California Community College Athletic Assn. men's volleyball state championship match on Saturday, won by host Long Beach City.
OCC has now lost its last seven title-match appearances and has nine state runner-up showings.