USC (24-6) wasn't supposed to play for a National Championship this year, "We were not the most talented team I've had since I've been here," said USC Head Coach Bill Ferguson, "but we worked and grinded and played volleyball the right way."
The season plan was for the Trojans to win the matches they could and learn from the losses they expected to suffer.
"If you had talked to me about this team playing in a national championship match at the beginning of the year, I said we'd win the ones we should, and lose the ones we should and there'll be a couple coin flips," said Ferguson.
Playing in the final match of the season was a bonus.
Winning the final match, would have been nothing short of a volleyball miracle
"I thought it was pretty clear that UC-Irvine was the better team," said Tony Ciarelli who was named to the All-Tournament team, "You have to give all the credit to them. They really peaked at the end of the season."
This was the fourth meeting this year between the two storied programs and the third time UC-Irvine (26-5) defeated the Trojans.
In front of their home crowd of 9,612 inside the Galen Center, the Trojans fought a courageous battle against the all-around superior UC-Irvine team. It was a battle that can't be described by sweep in the box score.
"Two deuce sets is amazing for us against that team, " said Ciarelli, who finished with a team high 18 kills. "People may see this as a three-game sweep, but I don't see that at all."
After a questionable call by the referees gave UC-Irvine the first set 25-22, USC came out firing in set number two.
The Trojans built a six-point lead behind the firepower of Ciarelli before watching UC-Irvine counter with a 9-3 run, lead by the tournament's Most Outstanding Player Carson Clark. Clark finished with a match-high 22 kills for the Anteaters.
UC-Irvine tied the second set at 20 on a Connor Hughes kill before the Anteaters and Trojans traded points, until a UC-Irvine kill and USC service error gave the Anteaters the second set and a commanding 2-0 lead.
With momentum, UC-Irvine quickly jumped out to the lead of the third set before the Trojans once again made a game of it, tying the set at 19-all. But the charge would be cut short. A Clark kill followed by a UC-Irvine service ace would decide the match and the National Championship.
"I wanted to win this match really badly, but if I take a step back and get realistic, I'm unbelievably proud to be here," said Ferguson.
This is UC-Irvine's third title since 2007. Their last championship came in 2009 against the Trojans.
This was USC's third Final Four appearance in the last four years.
The Trojans graduate two Seniors, including Ciarelli and All-American Steven Shandrick.
Trojans Fall in National Championship Match
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