It will be business as usual for the No. 5 BYU men’s volleyball team as it hosts the No. 11 University of the Pacific Tigers this weekend, marking the final week of a four-week-long home stretch.
The Cougars look to achieve their regular goals of serving and passing well to defeat the Tigers, but according to senior middle blocker Futi Tavana, this weekend’s games mark, in a sense, a new beginning for the team.
“It’s funny because we’re midway through the season, but this is the first time we’ve had our whole team together,” Tavana said. “So, it’s kind of like starting all over again because we finally have everyone back … Now we’re just playing altogether again and trying to get into that rhythm that we’ve had before. I think having everyone back is the biggest improvement, so now we can build our team chemistry.”
Injuries have complicated BYU’s season, as Tavana was out for the first several weeks of the season recovering from a ruptured Achilles. After outside hitter Taylor Sander broke his hand in early February, the team struggled to find its mojo.
Now, both Tavana and Sander have recovered. Though they are not perfect, players and coaches say the team dynamic will continue to improve.
University of the Pacific, located in Stockton, Calif., wields a 6-12 record, but according to senior middle blocker Quentin Smith, is much more talented than its record shows. Tavana agreed and said Pacific’s record doesn’t necessarily reflect its talent as a team.
The Tigers are coming off a 3-0 sweep of UC San Diego on March 3, during which the team maintained an impressive .395 hitting percentage. During that game, three Pacific players turned in hitting percentages above .45. Seniors Florian Gornik, an outside hitter, and Sean Daley, an opposite hitter, hit .476 and .455, respectively, while junior outside hitter Taylor Hughes turned in 17 kills and a .519 hitting percentage.
Hughes is ranked 13th in the MPSF conference for kills and was an All-MPSF honorable mention in 2011. Joining Hughes on the leaderboard is sophomore libero Javier Caceres, ranked second in the conference in digs, who was also an All-MPSF honorable mention in 2011.
Tavana said BYU aims to pressure Pacific by utilizing its talented array of hitters.
“Serving and passing is very important,” Tavana said. “If you can serve in the court and pass well, then everything else works. So that’s obviously our main goal. But what we like to do is start every game from the middle of the court and work our way out. So, we’ll run it down the middle and then push the holes and open everything else up.”
Smith said the Cougars’ goal is also to maintain a low percentage of hitting errors.
“One thing that we made a lot of improvement on last weekend was attacking-wise, we had a really low number of hitting errors,” Smith said. “A couple weeks ago, after our UC Santa Barbara match that we lost in five sets … when we looked at the numbers, it wasn’t that we served poorly, it wasn’t that we passed poorly. What hurt us that game was unforced hitting errors, and so last weekend we made big improvements in that category.”
Smith also said the Tigers’ talent isn’t what will matter this weekend, but rather, how the Cougars prepare for the game and execute their own game plan.
“I think one of the most important things we’ve learned is it’s never really about who we’re playing,” Smith said. “I think something important is it’s not necessarily who’s on the other side of the net, but just learning that we’re in control of what’s going on. If we execute what we know how to do and execute our game plan, then we can kind of ride our own ticket and take this as far as we want to take it. I don’t think it’s ever going to be about how good the other team is.”
BYU will host Pacific on both Friday and Saturday nights at 7 in the Smith Fieldhouse.