PROVO In order to keep its postseasaon alive and reach the NCAA Final Four and contend for its first national championship in four seasons, the third-ranked BYU men's volleyball team must first face eighth-ranked UC Irvine, the defending national champs who ended the Cougars' postseason run last year.
Seeded No. 2 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, BYU (23-4, 18-4 MPSF) faces UCI (16-14, 11-11) in tonight's quarterfinals at the Smith Fieldhouse.
The winner advances to Thursday's quarterfinals, hosted by top-ranked and top-seeded Long Beach State.
The Cougars won both regular-season matches against the Anteaters, which were contested in Irvine, Calif. The first was a five-set marathon match, with BYU winning the fifth and decisive set 28-26 in the fifth-longest game in MPSF history. BYU won the next night in four games.
Since 2000, the Cougars are 14-4 in matches against the Anteaters, but only 3-4 the past three seasons.
Last year, BYU won its first postseason match since the '04 championship year by sweeping Cal State Northridge in three sets in the MPSF quarterfinals, with the second-ranked Cougars only to fall in five to No. 3 Anteaters in the semifinals. UCI went on to upset top-ranked Pepperdine in the finals en route to winning the 2007 NCAA title.
UCI advanced to tonight's quarterfinals by downing eighth-seeded Southern California in Wednesday's play-in tournament match, as the Anteaters needed five sets to eliminate the Trojans at home.This marks BYU's 13th consecutive qualification for the MPSF Tournament, but the Cougars have struggled the past three seasons. Besides being eliminated in last year's semifinals, BYU didn't make it past the quarterfinals the previous two seasons, being upset at home in five sets in 2005 by UC Santa Barbara and losing in four at Long Beach State in '06.
MPSF men's volleyball tournament
Wednesday's play-in match
• No. 7 UC Irvine at No. 2 BYU
• No. 6 Stanford at No. 3 CS Northridge
• No. 5 Pepperdine at No. 4 UCLA
At Long Beach State
• BYU-UCI winner vs. Stanford-CSUN winner
MPSF Tournament championships