The BYU men’s volleyball team easily upset previously top-ranked UC Irvine last weekend, but will look to avoid their own upset bid as the fifth-ranked USC Trojans come to Provo this weekend.
After being on the road for two weeks, the top-ranked Cougars return home for their opener against the Trojans. The two top-5 teams will face off Friday and Saturday in the Smith Fieldhouse at 7 p.m.
The Cougars, currently on a four-game win streak, are coming off a sweep of the previously top-ranked UCI Anteaters last weekend and plan to use that momentum against the Trojans.
Playing an important role in the Cougars’ success is sophomore outside hitter Taylor Sander, who turned in a total of 35 kills against the Anteaters, helping him earn MPSF Player of the Week Honors and a nomination as the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week.
Thanks to this weekend’s sweep of the Anteaters, the team regained the nation’s top spot. According to opposite hitter Josue Rivera, the team is excited about its renewed No. 1 ranking.
“I don’t think we’re scared about being No. 1, I think we’re more excited about it,” Rivera said. “We just have to keep pushing hard and go hard every point.”
Head coach Chris McGown said the Trojans are a dangerous team because their talent level is high while the pressure for them to win is low.
“The best thing for them is there aren’t a lot of expectations for them right now,” he said. “They can play loose and they’re not expected to win anything and so there’s just not a lot of pressure on them right now…We just have to make sure that we’re doing everything on our end to prepare for them the right way and then execute a good game plan against them.”
USC is led by senior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, who was a 2011 second-team All-American and was also named to the 2011 All-MPSF first team. According to senior opposite hitter Robb Stowell, Ciarelli may have a hard time against the Cougars’ defense.
“Our block and our defense are very good, which will make them have to work harder to score points,” Stowell said. “We need to keep working on what we do best, which is our blocking and our attacking. If we get better at passing, then we can attack a lot sounder and a lot better, and put a lot more pressure on them.”
McGown, Stowell and Rivera all said the Cougars need to continue improving their serve and pass game and that passing may be the key to this weekend’s games.
“We’re a phenomenally good team when we pass well,” McGown said. “When we don’t pass well, we’re still a very good team but that’s kind of our Achilles heel right now. When we pass well, our offense has been really good.”
According to Rivera, the team made big improvements to its passing against UCI last weekend and looks to use those improvements against USC. Stowell added that the win against UCI helped uplift the team as a whole.
“I think that last weekend’s win against UCI and the way we played as a team gave us a lot of confidence and sort of shed some light on how incredible a team we are and how incredibly good we can be,” Stowell said.