PROVO — It’s hard to imagine the BYU men’s volleyball team being in a better spot as it enters the final road trip of the regular season this weekend against Pacific and No. 8 Stanford. A 20-4 overall record has garnered a No. 1 national ranking for the sixth week in a row, but more important is its 19-3 record in MPSF conference play, which clinches the regular season title.
The Cougars clinched the MPSF title by virtue of a hard-earned road win against Santa Barbara in five sets (20-25, 25-20, 18-25, 25-21, 15-13.) The very next match, however, the Cougars lost in straight sets to UCLA, their first loss since Feb. 15.
The loss served as a resounding reminder that there’s work left to do.
“UCLA was amazing in that game and we played well, but obviously not good enough to win and it humbled us,” said senior setter Ryan Boyce. “It was our first loss in a long while, but the important thing is how we learn from it and respond, and I think we’ve done things to indicate that we will learn from it and be better for it.”
If BYU is to achieve its ultimate goal of a national championship, it will have to win it on UCLA’s home court as the Bruins are set to host the NCAA final four in early May.
Getting to the final four is something the Cougars haven’t done since winning the national championship back in 2004. They’ve come painstakingly close to getting back there in most years since, but losses in the latter rounds of the MPSF tournament left them without an invite.
This year the odds are strongly in favor of BYU getting the coveted invite to the NCAA final four for a couple of reasons.
First, the NCAA almost always extends an invite to the MPSF regular season champion if that champion doesn’t completely lay an egg in the conference tournament.
“I think if we win in the quarterfinals that it might be enough, but if we go out in the first round I could definitely see us not getting an invitation,” said BYU coach Chris McGown. “I think if we get a semifinal win then we should for sure get in, but we need to make sure nothing is left to chance.”
Should BYU win the MPSF tournament, it will be assured of an invite, and the odds of doing so have rarely been higher.
Due to clinching the regular season title, BYU will host the entirety of the MPSF tournament in the comfy confines of the Smith Fieldhouse.
“It’s massive for us to be able to sleep in your own bed, be in your own routine and not have to travel,” McGown said. “The altitude is what we’re used to, so the serve and pass game are in our favor, and then we have our fans, who are the best in the country.”
First things first, however, as the team looks to rebound this weekend on the road against two tough opponents.
“These matches are huge for us because we want momentum entering the tournament and we want confidence that we can win away from home,” Boyce said. “We don’t feel that the UCLA game was a big stumbling block, but more of a wake-up call that there are a lot of good teams out there that can play amazing matches against you. We’re in a good spot, sure, but we have a lot of work left until we’re able to reach our major goal, which is to win a national championship."
BYU squares off against Pacific this Friday at 8 p.m. MDT and then against Stanford Saturday at the same time. The MPSF playoffs begin the following Saturday on April 20.