By Stephen Vincent
BYU”s loss on Saturday night, April 12, was Pepperdine”s gain, as the Waves won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season title in the last match they played, sweeping BYU 30-25, 30-18, 30-24.
The win came a night after BYU rallied from a two-game deficit to beat the Waves, 26-30, 21-30, 30-27, 30-19, 16-14.
Pepperdine (22-4 overall, 19-3 MPSF) will host the conference tournament semifinals and finals matches. BYU, the No. 2 seed in the MPSF tournament, opens with a home match against the seventh-seed Matadors of Cal State-Northridge on Saturday.
If the Cougars defeat the Matadors, they will likely play Hawaii in the semifinals.
That match will be crucial to the Cougars” hopes of reaching the national tournament. Since only four teams go, BYU must either win the at-large bid by winning the conference tournament or hope that Pepperdine wins the MPSF tourney and that BYU”s resume is strong enough for the selection committee to opt for the Cougars over the Warriors.
BYU (19-6, 17-5) and Hawaii (23-5, 17-5) split during the Rainbows” regular season trip to Provo in February.
Following his team”s wins two weeks ago against Long Beach, BYU coach Tom Peterson said he thought that if it comes down to BYU or Hawaii being selected to play in the NCAA Tournament, then whoever reaches the MPSF title match will be the team that likely gets selected.
Last year, the choice for who would get the at-large bid was between BYU and Hawaii. The committee selected Hawaii, and the Warriors went on to win the national championship.
The Cougars” split against top-ranked Pepperdine matched the split Hawaii scored against the Waves in the Islands in February.
BYU earned its split with a brilliant rally in Friday”s match.
The Cougars dropped the first two games behind some poor hitting. BYU didn”t hit above .200 in either game.
But the Cougars improved in the third game to hit .286, and then hit over .400 in both the fourth and fifth games.
Rafael Paal put on a splendid all-around performance with 21 kills, four service aces, seven digs and four blocks.
Michael Burke added 14 kills and Chris Gorny chipped in 12 more.
The Cougars out-blocked the Waves 11 to seven and held the Waves to sub-.200 hitting in games three and four, including a .056 average in game four.
On Saturday, Pepperdine smothered the Cougars, as the Waves” blocking game caused havoc for the Cougars offense.
BYU hit just .170 in the match, and no BYU player had more than eight kills.
Meanwhile, the Waves enjoyed a good hitting night, led by All-American Sean Rooney”s 16 kills.
Brad Keenan added 14 more, while hitting .667. Fred Winters also recorded 14 kills, and the Waves hit .376 as a team.