Four Trojans Try Professional Circuit

After an abrupt end to their season, four recent graduates of USC's men's volleyball team are trying their hand at the professional level.

After the USC mens volleyball team's season-ending loss to UCSB in May's NCAA Final Four, the group was forlorn. They felt deserted, hopeless, as if their fiancée had left them standing at the alter.

Because the Trojans amassed 23 dominant wins and retained a number-one seed throughout the regular season. So their unexpected loss to the Gauchos was nothing short of devastating.

"I don't think I've ever been so depressed in my life for a good two weeks," said USC setter Riley McKibbin, a recent graduate.

But McKibbin and three other Trojans didn't want the sickening memory of losing a title it knew it could (and should) have won to be their last. And besides, they have to pay the bills somehow.

That's why McKibbin, Tri Bourne, Austin Zahn and Murphy Troy—two-thirds of USC's starting unit last season—are tackling a new challenge: professional volleyball.

But what's beyond college volleyball in the United States?

Truthfully, scraps.

"There's definitely the talent in the U.S. I just don't think there's the fan support which is a shame," said Troy, the 2011 AVCA Player of the Year.

The now defunct Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) is a floundering fish, trying to rebuild after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2010.

But that's beach, anyway.

Professional six-man volleyball is a big deal abroad. Volleyball is among the world''s top five sports, according to the International Volleyball Federation.

Domestically, it's a niche, overshadowed by the prominence of shoulder pads and wooden bats.

But countries like Spain, Italy, Finland and others are alternate routes for many U.S. players to continue their careers.

"It's sort of a cool opportunity to be able to go overseas and play in a different country and learn new things and see new places," Troy said.

On its face, going to another country to play a sport is ordinary, something most soccer players do, and certainly an idea many NBA players are entertaining during the lockout.

But for four teammates, who have grown as close as brothers, it is a special type of journey.

"It's pretty rare because we all came in together as freshman and were able to grow together and compete against each other every day," said Bourne, the Trojan's starting outside hitter last season.

Comparing USC to other universities in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), the Trojans produced twice as many professional volleyball players this season than any other school, largely because of a loaded senior class that loses six athletes.

SCHOOL Number of Players Going Pro in 2011
USC 4
UCSB 2
Pepperdine 2
Hawaii 1
Stanford 0
CSUN 0
Pacific 0
UCLA 0

Clearly their talent is unparalleled. Except, maybe to USC, albeit in another sport.

The Trojans have produced the most NFL draft picks of any college program in history (472). But two-thirds of a team's starting unit? That's a rarity.

"What they did this year was, I mean, I want to say monumental," said former UCSB setter Vince Devany. "All eyes were on them throughout the season. Everyone got up to play them."

Making it even tougher to play professional volleyball, some international leagues have a qualified number of non-citizens they allow on each team.

Somehow -not one, two or three- but four Trojans have defied those odds.

Both McKibbin and Troy have joined teams in Italy's Serie A1, the country's highest volleyball division. After teaming up like Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as the ‘Bad Boys' of the Galen Center the past four years, they are now each other's competition.

Bourne and Zahn are unsure of their whereabouts, but Italy is in the mix, among other European countries.

Regardless, each player will take resumes loaded with volleyball accolades to their new overseas abodes, wherever that might be.

Troy (6-8, 240), a two-time AVCA All-American, recently made an appearance for the men's national team in June's Pan-American Cup, where U.S.A. lost to Brazil in the finals. He logged significant playing time despite being surrounded by a veteran group. The imposing St. Louis, Mo. native has a remarkably well-rounded game, leading USC in kills and aces and ranking third for the Trojans in digs this past season. He is also a great leader.

McKibbin (6-2, 195), like a dual-threat quarterback, is a setter with a variety of tools. The All-American is quick, consistent and not afraid to attack. In 2011, he led the nation in kills for setters (47).

Bourne's talents came to light this year. An outside hitter (6-5, 195), he has great ball control and instinct with impressive athleticism. Bourne was clutch in wins over teams like Pacific and Long Beach State and key to the Trojans' revenge win over Pepperdine.

Finally, Zahn (6-8, 230) is a beast on the court. This middle blocker can hit any kind of set, at nearly any pace, with a seemingly endless power. The MPSF honorable mention is nimble for his size, too, and seems to get a touch on nearly any block, ranking second in the category for USC. He has a strong determination to win and it's apparent in his game.

The four Trojans have won all kinds of awards for the sport. But it is only now that the hard work is paying off, at least they hope.

"I just kind of made the decision I didn't want to be sitting at a desk. I have never been to Europe, I've never been out of the country so why not do it for a profit?" McKibbin said.

Why not? Good question.


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