PROVO — The fourth-ranked BYU men's volleyball team finds itself in a good spot entering back-to-back matches against third-ranked UCLA this weekend. If the Cougars win both matches, BYU will take the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) regular-season title and earn a berth into the national championships in early May.
With their conference play wrapping up this weekend the Cougars, and their 16-4 league record, find themselves in a four-way tie on top of the MPSF standings, along with UC-Irvine (15-4), USC (14-4) and UCLA (14-4). They hold tie-breaking scenarios with all three, while losing a tie-breaking scenario with Stanford, who currently holds the fifth spot at 13-5.
With all contending title-chasers having tough matches after this weekend, BYU could find itself with the title even if they drop one or even both matches to the Bruins.
"We obviously like where we're at entering this weekend against a very good UCLA team," said coach Chris McGown. "I think the pressure is on (UCLA) with them being ranked ahead of us and with them being at home, so I like our chances right now and I think our guys are going to be loose and I think we'll go there and play well."
BYU is typically a team that is close to unbeatable at home, while struggling somewhat on the road. This season, however, it holds a 7-1 road conference record opposed to a 9-3 record at home. Granted that two of its home losses came on the heels of losing star player Taylor Sander to injury, but even with that, BYU has proven to be a solid road team.
"The biggest thing for us to do on the road is to limit our distractions and I think we've done well with that," said McGown. "It's not always easy to do that when you travel to places like Southern California and Hawaii, but when our guys have done that we've been at our best, so we'll certainly look to focus and shut all the distractions out this weekend."
It's been an interesting season for the Cougars — jumping out fast to an early No. 1 ranking before falling back a bit due to Sander's injury. Overall there's a feeling that they might be peaking at just the right time.
"I really like where we're at in the standings and with how we're playing, so yeah, I think you could definitely say that we're peaking — at least I hope we are," said McGown. "It's been a weird season with what we've been through, but we seem to be getting it together at the right time."
Should the Cougars fail to capture the regular-season MPSF title, they stand to be in good position entering the MPSF tournament, which includes the conference's top eight teams. BYU is very likely to host the opening-round match and their semifinal match should they not win out against UCLA.
The winner of the MPSF tournament receives one of the four bids to the national championships, which will take place at USC from May 3-5.
REPLACING RIVERA: Freshman outside hitter Josue Rivera sustained a sprained ankle against Cal-State Northridge and is doubtful for this weekend's matches. Rivera is second on the team in kills and an emotional leader — playing a huge impact on the overall team's success so far this season.
He'll be replaced largely by sophomore Todd Heap.
"Andrew has been playing very well in practice and when you look at his stats over the past two or three weeks — he's been playing very well for us," said McGown. "He's ready and he's very good in the role where he's not being looked at as the featured outside hitter. I'm confident that we won't miss a beat with him in there getting most of the time."
Cougars, Bruins clash
No. 4 BYU (20-5, 16-4)
vs. No. 3 UCLA (20-5, 14-4)
Tonight, 8 p.m. MDT
John Wooden Center
No. 4 BYU (20-5, 16-4)
at No. 3 UCLA (20-5, 14-4)
Tonight, 8 p.m. MT
John Wooden Center
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