Another match, another sweep. The BYU men's volleyball team took down USC in the Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday night in straight sets. It was BYU's last regular-season match at home and its 11th victory in a row.
The victory on Saturday was especially sweet because with UC-Irvine losing that night, BYU locked up the #1 seed in the MPSF conference tournament which is coming up near the end of April. That means BYU will host all of its matches in that tournament.
The win Saturday also put BYU up by four matches in the MPSF conference standings, so the Cougars just needto win one of their remaining four away matches to lock up the regular season MPSF title as well. The MPSF regular season title is desirable on its own, but in this sport it is also basically a guaranteed invite to the NCAA men's volleyball tournament (May 2-4 in Los Angeles).
In men's volleyball, only four teams are invited to the NCAA Tournament. Three of the invites are given to the winners of the tournaments of the three main conferences. The one at-large bid is basically assured of going to a member of the MPSF league because the MPSF is far and away the best league in the country. So the regular season MPSF title basically assures BYU of an at-large invite to the NCAA Tourney even if the Cougars get upset in the MPSF tournament.
It is becoming clear that BYU volleyball is just better this year than they have been in the last several years. That might seem surprising considering the graduation of star middle blocker Futi Tavana and stalwart opposite hitter Rob Stowell from last year's squad. One might assume BYU would have struggles filling those spots.
But rather than rebuilding, BYU simply reloaded at the spots where players graduated. Tavana's shoes have been filled admirably by a committee of excellent middle blockers, led by senior Russ Lavaja. The mustachioed senior Ryan Boyce has stepped in and delivered as BYU's starting setter. Superstar junior outside hitter, Taylor Sander (aka the Sandman even though I prefer to call him the Sandblaster), has picked up this season right where he left off and his backups are playing better as well.
The biggest difference this year seems to be the addition of 6'8" freshman phenom Ben Patch. Patch has not only filled the opposite hitter spot, he has taken it to an entirely new level of excellence. If Sander is the Michael Jordan of BYU volleyball, then Patch is Scottie Pippen. Opponents just have found no answer for these two devastating canons on the corners. And when the opposition overcompensates to cover the corners, Boyce just feeds the middle and BYU detonates from there as well.
Maybe it goes to show that it helps to have better players than the other team. BYU seemingly has those better players night in and night out this season. That's why another national title seems so within reach right now. Of course the problem is that any team can get hot in the NCAA tournament so BYU has its work cut out for it. But right now BYU is certainly on the right track.
It should be an exciting spring for BYU volleyball fans.