The No. 4 BYU men’s volleyball team will play two of this season’s most important matches Friday and Saturday nights as it takes on No. 3 UCLA in California.
The Cougars are tied with the Bruins for the No. 1 spot in the MPSF conference, and according to senior middle blocker Futi Tavana, this weekend’s results could make or break the Cougars.
“These are two big matches for us. If we win both matches, we’ll win the conference title and host the conference tournament,” Tavana said. “If we lose both or split with them, we can drop to as low as No. 5 and not host a quarterfinal … So these are big games in that aspect, but hopefully they’ll also help us build some momentum going into the playoffs.”
According to head coach Chris McGown, the team is trying not to focus on the implications of this weekend’s games.
“We’re just hoping to go out and play hard,” McGown said. “We’ve talked about it and we just want to make sure we’re playing principle volleyball … On one hand, I don’t think it sets any precedent but on the other hand, it would just be nice to play clean, solid volleyball at the end of the season and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
Both BYU and UCLA have high team hitting percentages – UCLA is ranked No. 2 in the nation at .340 and BYU is No. 4 with .330. Two Bruins, senior middle blockers Thomas Amberg and Weston Dunlap, sit atop the MPSF conference in hitting percentage at .498 and .479, respectively.
BYU is ranked No. 1 in the nation in team blocks, with Tavana and junior middle blocker Russ Lavaja ranked second and fourth, respectively, in the conference.
With both teams ranked so high in hitting and blocking, this weekend’s games are shaping up to be a battle at the net. Both McGown and Tavana, however, said the Cougars are focusing less on blocking and more on serving.
“It’ll be a battle for sure. But what we have to do is try and keep them out of system so their hitters aren’t hitting high percentage balls all the time, and we have to do that from the service line,” Tavana said. “We’ll try to serve tough against them, and our block will do what they usually do, whether they’re in system or not.”
Though the Cougars’ block is good, McGown said the team is not counting on it winning them the game.
“Mostly, we don’t want to have to block a lot of balls to win this match,” McGown said. “We want to be able to get them out of system so they’re having to take tough swings, make them make mistakes, dig some balls behind our block and turn some points in transition.”
According to junior middle blocker Russ Lavaja, BYU is capable of winning this weekend’s matches – the only thing standing in the team’s way is the team itself.
“Getting better is our main focus right now,” Lavaja said. “We feel as though there is nobody that really can stop us except ourselves, so I think if we just get out there and play the best we possibly can, we can do great things and I’m excited for it.”
BYU will play UCLA on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 PST.