California Baptist University has roughly one-sixth the enrollment of BYU and a struggling men’s volleyball team. No big deal, right?
It would be easy to write off the Cougars’ upcoming games against the Lancers, but according to senior opposite hitter Robb Stowell, writing a 3-9 team off is exactly what the third-ranked men’s volleyball team cannot do.
“They have a lot of athletic guys and they’ve beaten a lot of Division I teams,” he said. “They’ve beaten us a few times and they’ve beaten a lot of teams in our conference. We need to play our hardest.”
CBU, located in Riverside, Calif., is in the second year of a three-year transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division II athletics. Technically, the two games this weekend won’t be considered conference games, though CBU will join BYU’s conference officially in 2013.
The Lancers’ current record doesn’t seem to reflect their true talent. In their 13 years in the NAIA, the Lancers were a men’s volleyball powerhouse, boasting eight national championships, including back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011.
Though CBU has championship experience, senior setter Joe Kauliakamoa said BYU will have a distinct mental advantage.
“They seem to be a strong team and they have good players, but they’re lacking in chemistry,” he said. “When we’ve played them before, if we’re able to stay together on our side, we’re usually able to break them down as a team.”
The Cougars are coming off two road wins against UC San Diego, one of which didn’t come easily. On Feb. 11, UCSD, an unranked team, took BYU to a close five-set match. Both Stowell and Kauliakamoa said BYU struggled to focus during Saturday’s game, allowing UCSD to keep it close.
“San Diego definitely played harder and tougher than us,” Kauliakamoa said. “We kind of lost our way and struggled to fight through it. This week, we really have to focus and stay disciplined and remember what we practice every day.”
According to Stowell, the Cougars have to maintain a high level of play to beat the Lancers.
“In the sport of volleyball, anybody can beat anybody on any night,” he said. “So, they [CBU] get a lot of confidence from knowing that if they play their hardest, then they can beat us if we have a bad night … We have to play at our very best every single night, and that’s the only way we’re going to be able to beat teams.”
CBU is led by senior outside-opposite hitter Levi Cabral, a two-time NAIA All-American. He was named the 2011 NAIA national player-of-the-year. Kauliakamoa said Cabral is a strong hitter who receives the majority of CBU’s sets.
According to Kauliakamoa, combating Cabral, as well as the rest of the Lancer team, will come down to the two things BYU focuses on most: serving and passing.
“Serve and pass: it always comes down to that,” he said. “If we can pass, then everything else comes easily. If we have perfect passes, then I’m able to run the offense the way that BYU does it, and usually we win games just like that.”
[pullquote]”Serve and pass: it always comes down to that,” he said. “If we can pass, then everything else comes easily. If we have perfect passes, then I’m able to run the offense the way that BYU does it, and usually we win games just like that.”[/pullquote]
This weekend’s games will mark the start of a four week-long home stretch, which Stowell says will help the Cougars establish a steady rhythm and routine, allowing the team to play at the best of its ability.
The Cougars will play the Lancers on both Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. in the Smith Fieldhouse.