After losing to Stanford on Feb. 3 and 4, the previously top-ranked Cougars fell to the No. 3 spot. This weekend, the team will travel to California to face an unranked UC San Diego team tonight and Saturday afternoon.
The Tritons currently have a 4-7 record on the season. According to senior middle blocker Futi Tavana, the team doesn’t know a lot about UCSD’s style of play, but knows the Tritons are potentially very dangerous.
[pullquote]”From what I’ve heard, they’ve played really well against some pretty good teams and not well against some not-so-great teams.”[/pullquote]
“From what I’ve heard, they’ve played really well against some pretty good teams and not well against some not-so-great teams,” he said. “So, it will really all depend on who is ready and who shows up. Depending on how they play, they could either kill us or we could kill them.”
BYU coach Chris McGown said because of BYU’s recent loss to Stanford, UCSD could be feeling much more confident going into this weekend’s matches.
“I think that they’ll have a bit of an upswing since we lost to Stanford,” he said. “I think they will think, ‘hey, you know, we can go toe-to-toe with these guys.’”
Unlike previous teams BYU has faced, UCSD lacks a core standout player or group of players, but rather, tends to blend as a team. McGown said their middle blockers, sophomores Sebastian Brady and Fred Stahl, are fairly strong and generally take a lot of sets.
Perhaps UCSD’s greatest strength, though, is the serving ability of sophomore setter Mike Brunsting, who is ranked seventh in the MPSF for service aces with 13.
“He’ll get a good jump serve and could get us in trouble from the service line,” McGown said.
According to freshman outside hitter Andrew Heap, who has stepped in during the absence of sophomore Taylor Sander, it will be vital for the Cougars to contain not only Brunsting’s, but the entire team’s serves to successfully run their offense.
“Our middles are almost unstoppable and our outsides have been doing really well,” he said. “So, a lot of it will come down to passing. We’ll get better swings if we control their serve a little bit better.”
Heap added it will be important for the Cougars to play more level-headed and confident than they did against Stanford. He said playing without Sander was difficult and added an extra element of stress onto the players’ shoulders.
“I think especially Friday night not having Taylor out there we were kind of looking at each other like, ‘Who’s going to make the play’ when he was the one that would usually make the big play,” he said. “This week, I think we just need to be confident; I don’t think we need to be Taylor Sander but just be the best we can be.”
McGown, Tavana and Heap all mentioned the talent of the Cougars’ middle blockers, Tavana, senior Quentin Smith and junior Russ Lavaja, and the vast improvement they have made as a unit. Lavaja and Smith are currently ranked third and fifth, respectively, in the MPSF for blocks per game. According to McGown, the Cougars’ blocking is what has improved the most throughout the season.
“I think our middles are doing a really nice job offensively,” he said. “They had a nice weekend against Stanford and now teams are going have to pay a lot of attention to them.”
McGown said the key to this weekend’s matches, as always, will be the serve and pass game.
“For us, it comes down to the same thing it’s come down to all season,” he said. “If we can pass well and we can serve well, then we’ll be good in every game. Against this team, we just need to play smart and take care of the ball on our side. I think once we do that we’ll be in good shape.”
The Cougars will play tonight at 7, as well as Saturday afternoon at 1. The team will return to Provo on Feb. 17 to take on Cal Baptist.