The BYU mens’ volleyball team opens regular-season play today as it takes on the top-ranked UC Irvine Anteaters in Irvine, Calif.
The Cougars, ranked second in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, suffered a tough 3-1 loss to UCI on Jan. 6 at the Gaucho Invitational in Santa Barbara. According to head coach Chris McGown, the team made many unforced errors and little mistakes, stemming from the anxiety that comes from playing competitively for the first time in months. Senior middle blocker Quentin Smith said he agreed.
“We definitely did not play our best match,” Smith said. “But what’s exciting is we ended up being in the game. Even not playing our best we were right there, so I think most of us are pretty pumped and pretty optimistic because we know we can play a lot better.”
According to sophomore outside hitter Taylor Sander, the key to beating UCI this weekend will be the serve and pass play, as well as coming together as a team.
“Last weekend all came down to serve and pass play,” he said. “They played a lot better in that area and if we work hard serving and passing this week in practice then we’ll perform a lot better this weekend.”
UCI is led by senior opposite hitter Carson Clark, who was a second-team All-American in 2011. He is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to both blocking and hitting.
“The best way to stop him is to not let them [UCI] run their offense,” McGown said. “Which means we have to serve really well to get them out of their system.”
Sander is an important player in defeating Clark because he competed with the U.S. junior national team this summer. It allowed him to bring unique experience to the team.
“Over the summer I got to see a lot of big blocks, which UCI has,” Sander said. “We’ll need to challenge their blocks. I can use my summer experience to help the team perform well this weekend.”
Another challenge the Cougars have had to deal with is injuries to two of their senior starters: Futi Tavana, a middle blocker, and Robb Stowell, an opposite hitter, both of whom were All-Americans in 2011. Stowell suffered a broken wrist, but according to McGown, is back in the gym and feeling good. Tavana suffered an Achilles rupture and is making a remarkably quick recovery. He is expected to be back in the lineup by mid-February.
The Cougars will play on both Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. They will return to Provo on Jan. 20-21 for their home opener against USC.