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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 6, 2010

USC's Ferguson tapping Island volleyball talent

By Kalani Takase
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawai'i is a popular travel destination year round, but especially during the winter months. Bill Ferguson has made his share of trips to the Islands, but this one will be "strictly business."

Ferguson is the head coach of the preseason No. 1-ranked Southern California men's volleyball team that arrives in Honolulu today for this weekend's season-opening Outrigger Hotels Invitational.

Along with host Hawai'i, USC joins Penn State and Ohio State in the 16th annual tournament.

"We're thrilled that people think that we're that good right now," said Ferguson. "We want to be the top dog, everyone on our roster came to SC to be the best. It's where we want to be and where we want to stay, but it's not something we can control. The only thing we can control is going on the court and playing the best we can and we feel that if we can do that, then we can justify our ranking. But, the most important ranking is at the end of the year."

Last year, the Trojans made their first final four appearance since 1991 and finished with a 21-11 record and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title. They lost in five sets to UC Irvine in the national final, and Ferguson was named National Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Ferguson said unlike in 2009, when USC also competed in the Invitational, the circumstances are slightly different this time around.

"Last year we had a scrimmage with Cal Baptist before going there and I thought, at that point, we had a good handle on where we were," Ferguson said.

Tomorrow's opening match against Penn State will be the first live match-action his team has seen.

"We weren't quite clicking on all cylinders until December, so I'd really like to see if we've made a big jump from the fall to now. We would like to come out and play at a high level off the bat, but I don't know how possible that will be or where we stand."

But the purpose of the trip for the Trojans is clear: Win the tournament.

"We definitely want to win every match we play. Our goal is to win the national championship and being able to beat these teams would be a great start to that," Ferguson said.

A big factor in USC's success will be the play of setter Riley McKibbin, a 2007 Punahou graduate.

"Riley, we feel, will be one of the best setters in the country this year," Ferguson said.

McKibbin, a 6-foot-2 junior, was named third-team All-American as a sophomore by Volleyball Magazine. He was named to the all-tournament team at both the MPSF tournament and final four, and earned honorable mention all-MPSF honors.

Another starter for the Trojans with local roots is outside hitter Tri Bourne, a 2007 Academy of the Pacific graduate.

"Tri is pretty much the glue that holds us together on the court," Ferguson said of the 6-foot-5, junior. "We had our big success last year after he got healthy and got in the lineup."

Bourne started the final 14 matches as a sophomore and had 10 or more kills in nine matches on the year.

USC also added last year's Advertiser State Player of the Year in freshman Maddison McKibbin, a 2009 Punahou graduate. He is the younger brother of Riley.

"Maddison is just an unbelievably talented and a phenomenal young kid. He will see playing time this year and contribute," Ferguson said. "We're thrilled to have them, they all have done really well for us and they're a huge, huge part of our success."

While both Ohio State and Penn State were in the final four last year, Ferguson feels it will be the home team that should provide the toughest test this weekend.

"I think the Warriors will be a very good team and I think that they may be that team like we were last year. People knew we were talented, but they were unsure when it would come together for us and I think Hawai'i will be that team in our league this year."

Said Ferguson: "They always play well at home, the fans there are fantastic and playing in the Stan Sheriff Center is second to none, so we're really looking forward to being a part of that."

The tournament runs tomorrow through Saturday. Matches start at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily.