Californians have distinct references for volleyball matches that match eastern or midwestern teams against their local favorites. They know a rout before they see one and often want to know, "Who do we play next?"
At the NCAA men's volleyball national semifinals Friday night at Pauley Pavilion, the talk was the same. But a scrappy George Mason University team at least managed to earn a measure of respect not afforded it before the game's first serve.
Despite flashes of talent that caught the eye of the 2,000 fans watching, the Patriots lost to Southern California, 15-4, 15-11, 15-10. The Patriots beat Ball State tonight, 15-12, 15-6, 15-5, for third place. USC met Pepperdine for the national title.
For a decade and a half, only California teams have won the national title.
Starting out nervously, George Mason let the Trojans dictate the tempo and was beaten easily in the opening game.
In the second game, USC, perhaps relaxing, watched as the Patriots scored five straight points to pull to within 13-11. A service error by freshman John Kristick gave the serve back to Southern Cal and the Trojans finished off the set.
Still, 6-foot-6 hitter Moyo Kasim, 5-10 senior setter Ric Lucas and 6-5 middle blocker Scott Graf all proved that despite the Patriots' inability to win, their individual talents were undeniable. Kasim and Graf combined for 25 kills.
"Any time you come out to California, there is a lot of pressure," George Mason Coach Wayne Stalick said. "I think against USC we showed we had the ability to make the excellent plays -- and showed flashes of brilliance -- but we didn't have the ability to sustain it.
"USC was able to get points in batches. We had the ability to point and sideout with them but not stop them from getting a string of points.
"We were really wanting to show well against SC. We were so disappointed with our performance, I don't know how that will carry over."
"I was disappointed," Lucas said. "I knew everyone would have to play their best to win. That didn't happen. So I'm not surprised at the results."