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Meet for NCAA title

UCI, USC

May 04, 2012|By Barry Faulkner
(Scott Smeltzer…)

If they aren't the two best teams in the nation, they are, perhaps, the most undeniable.

UC Irvine (25-5), ranked No. 2 in the final national poll and seeded No. 1 in the four-team NCAA Championship, takes on No. 1-ranked USC (24-5), the No. 2 seed, in the NCAA title match Saturday at 7 p.m. at USC's Galen Center.

The Anteaters, who have won two of three matches with the Trojans this season, are aiming for the program's third national crown. UCI, in its fourth Final Four in seven seasons, won NCAA championships in 2007 and 2009. In 2009, UCI topped USC in five games in the final at BYU.

USC, in its 14th Final Four, is seeking the program's fifth NCAA crown, but its first since 1990.

Coach Bill Ferguson's Trojans defended their Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season title in 2012, despite being picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches poll. They ended the regular season on a 17-match winning streak and extended it to 18, before falling in five games in the MPSF Tournament semifinals to UCI on May 26.

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UCI, picked to finish second in the preseason poll, quickly seized the top national ranking and exchanged it with BYU, UCLA and USC at various points in the regular season, before finishing in a three-way tie for second in the MPSF.

UCI lost at USC in four games on April 7, and topped the Trojans in four on Jan. 27 at the Bren Events Center.

It has become a hearty rivalry, particularly for senior All-Americans Carson Clark (UCI) and Tony Ciarelli (USC), who were freshman starters in the 2009 NCAA final.

"This will be like the 15th time we've played [the Anteaters], which is pretty unreal," Ciarelli said after his team's four-game semifinal win over Lewis on Thursday. "It seems like we know each other pretty well. We don't know hat they are going to do, but we know what they like to do.

"We know how to beat them and they know how to beat us, so I think it's going to be two really, really good teams up against each other, just giving it their all. I'm really, really excited. It's going to be good volleyball, I think."

The two coaches spoke about the showdown on Friday, in predictably different ways.

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