By Stephen Vincent
Nearly halfway through its 2003 campaign, the BYU men”s volleyball team”s season can be viewed in two ways.
The Cougars are either a contender for a national championship, or a team that has benefited from playing the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation”s weakest teams.
BYU head coach Tom Peterson believes the former theory.
“We think we”re one of the top teams in the country,” said Peterson, whose Cougars travel to play USC this weekend. “Hawaii”s the No. 2-ranked team, and we beat them, and we thought we could beat them twice.”
BYU”s split with Hawaii bumped the Cougars up one spot in the national polls to No. 3, and it also earned senior Rafael Paal national player of the week honors.
“We have a very good chance (to win a national title),” Paal said. “We”ve been working hard together, and with a little bit of luck, we”re going to accomplish that goal.”
Even though just two of BYU”s opponents so far are in the top half of the MPSF standings, BYU”s schedule has not been easy.
And going 9-3 in the MPSF requires beating some of the nation”s top teams.
So far this season, BYU has swept No. 7 UCLA and No. 9 Stanford and split with Hawaii, No. 10 Pacific and No. 14 UC Santa Barbara.
“You can see that when we”re up, we”re pretty good,” Peterson said.
But BYU”s schedule will get tougher in the next six weeks with home series against No. 5 UC Irvine, No. 8 Long Beach State and No. 11 Penn State.
The Cougars also go on the road to face No. 6 Cal State-Northridge and No. 1 Pepperdine.
But for this week, BYU plays an MPSF cupcake, USC (3-12 overall, 1-9 MPSF).
The Trojans” only win in MPSF play came against league doormat San Diego.
In USC”s nine conference losses, it has won just three games.
The Trojans hit just .249, the second-worst percentage in the MPSF.
USC is last in the MPSF in kills and assists.
BYU meanwhile hits .351, which is second-best in the MPSF. The Cougars also lead the conference is aces, assists and digs.
USC is a team still trying to find its lineup, as it has used nine different starting lineups in its 15 matches.
Josh Day is the Trojans” best hitter, averaging 2.6 kills per game with a .406 percentage. Chris McKniff is the only other Trojan regular hitting over .300.
Peterson, however, said he believes USC is better than its record.
“They”re not this bad team,” Peterson said. “But if they play well, and we play well, I”d expect us to win.”
Peterson said the Trojans” advantage is their height.
“USC has maybe five guys who are 6-foot-8, so we”re going to be looking up at them,” Peterson said.
BYU will be watching what happens this weekend in Honolulu when Pepperdine visits a Hawaii. A pair of Hawaii wins, coupled with a BYU sweep of USC, could put BYU back in the MPSF title race.
HAWAII COACH DISPELS INTERNET RUMOR: Earlier this week, an Internet bulletin board posting claimed BYU fans were throwing garbage at the Hawaii players during Friday”s match.
The posting also claimed that Hawaii players were told to stay in their hotel rooms because of threats made by BYU fans.
But Hawaii coach Mike Wilton said all the allegations are completely false.
“BYU fans are the envy of the nation,” Wilton said. “They have great energy, and they come to make it happen for their team. They get rowdy, and that”s a good thing. I”ve never heard obscenities or racial slurs. We were treated very well at BYU.”
A warning was issued to BYU during the game to not throw items on the floor. Wilton said he was told that someone threw a candy wrapper at the referee.
“I”m unaware of items being thrown at the Hawaii bench,” Wilton said. “Maybe a Thunderstick. Big deal.”