The No. 1 ranked Cougars are winners of seven straight matches and are seeking to wrap up a No. 1 seed in the conference. BYU (15–3) is trying to exact revenge against Long Beach State on Saturday, one of only three teams to defeat it this year. Libero Jaylen Reyes still remembers that stinging fifth-set defeat.
“They served and passed better than us,” Reyes said. “Their two outside hitters dominated us from the pins and from the back row.”
The 49ers have played well since their last meeting against the Cougars. They are sitting at 16–6 on the season and are currently ranked No. 4 in the country. In that game, however, BYU middle blocker Rusty Lavaja went down with an ankle injury, and Long Beach State outside hitters Taylor Crabb and Dalton Ammerman torched the Cougars. This time around, Lavaja is fully healed and the Cougars are prepared for the onslaught of the 49ers’ outside hitters.
“We’ve been able to watch a few more matches and pick up a few more trends,” BYU coach Chris McGown said. “We can see how they want to play, see how they want to defend. They’re a good team, so it’s going to be a battle.”
BYU defeated Cal State Northridge earlier this season in the Smith Fieldhouse. The Matadors have lost three matches in a row, and although they are only 10–8, they are still ranked No. 9 in the country. BYU closes out the season with six of their last eight games on the road.
“We’ve had to battle virtually every team on the road,” McGown said. “It’s a contest, but our guys understand that. They don’t shy away from it, that’s part of their mentality. It’s a battle every time.”
The Cougars are currently first in the MPSF Conference standings. If they win the regular season title, they have the opportunity to host the conference tournament in April. Reyes understands how important this is.
“Hosting the tournament is just a huge advantage going to the final four (of the NCAA tournament),” Reyes said. “There’s a big difference playing here. Other teams need to come here and get used to the altitude and playing at our place. It’s not given to us but its a big, big incentive to why you should win the regular season.”
McGown is aware of the big advantage playing at home in the tournament is, but isn’t counting on that to happen just yet.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” McGown said. “There’s a lot of volleyball yet to be played. If we’re lucky enough to get to the point where we’re hosting the tournament, it’s massive because there’s so much an advantage for us here at home. There’s a lot of water to go under that bridge, so were trying to focus on this weekend.”
BYU faces Cal State Northridge Friday night and Long Beach State Saturday night. Both games start at 7 p.m. PST.