BYU gears up for NCAA Final Four

(Photo by BYU Photo/Jonathan Hardy)

PROVO, Utah – After claiming the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament title, the top-ranked BYU men’s volleyball team is set for its first trip to the NCAA Men’s Volleyball National Championship since 2004.

No. 1-seed BYU faces fourth-seeded Penn State in the second semifinal match on Thursday at the Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles. The match is set for 9 p.m. MDT and can be seen at NCAA.com. No. 2-seed UC Irvine will play No. 3-seed Loyola-Chicago in the first semifinal match on Thursday at 7 p.m. MDT.

This is the Cougars’ fifth trip to the NCAA Final Four since 1999. BYU reached the Final Four in 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2004 and went on to win the National Championship in three of the four years.

The Cougars held the No. 1 national ranking in the AVCA national poll for 11 of the 15 regular season weeks, including the final seven weeks of the season. 

Junior outside hitter Taylor Sander, the MPSF Player of the Year and Tournament MVP, and a well-rounded Cougar roster led BYU to a 25-4 overall record this season.

With a league-leading 21-3 record, the Cougars captured the regular season MPSF title by three matches in head coach Chris McGown’s second season with the team. BYU secured the No. 1-seed in the MPSF tournament on March 30, the earliest the No. 1-seed has been clinched during the rally-scoring era. BYU swept Long Beach State in the title match to receive the automatic bid.

Sander and freshman opposite Ben Patch garnered AVCA All-America First Team honors while senior middle blocker Russ Lavaja was named to the second team. Patch was also named the AVCA Newcomer of the Year.

Penn State

The No. 14 Nittany Lions defeated Harvard, 3-0, for their 15th straight Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association title on Saturday to earn the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Penn State (23-7, 13-1 EIVA) is making its 15th straight and 28th overall NCAA National Semifinal appearance, having captured the National Championship title in 1994 and 2008.

Aaron Russell leads Penn State with 3.57 kills per set. The team averages 12.9 kills and 8.7 blocks per set.

This will be the first meeting between Penn State and BYU in 2013. BYU holds the overall series advantage with a 10-6 record. The Cougars and Nittany Lions last met in 2012 during the regular season. BYU won both matches, 3-1 and 3-0, in Provo.

UC Irvine

No. 3 UC Irvine (23-7, 18-6 MPSF) received the at-large berth for the NCAA Championship for its fifth appearance in the tournament. The Anteaters are 6-1 in previous tournament play, winning national titles in 2007, 2009 and last year.

UC Irvine reached the MPSF semifinals before falling to Long Beach State 3-2.

The Anteaters placed three athletes on the All-America teams. Michael Brinkley and Kevin Tillie were named to the first team with Collin Mehring earning second team honors.

The Cougars are 41-12 all-time against the Anteaters and won both 2013 meetings, 3-2 and 3-0.

Loyola-Chicago

No. 12 Loyola earned the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament after a five-set win over Lewis in the Midweatern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) final. This marks Loyola’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Championship.

The Ramblers (22-9, 10-4 MIVA) feature a balanced offensive attack led by 2013 MIVA Player of the Year Joe Smalzer. Smalzer enters the NCAA Championship as the nation’s leader in service aces. Loyola also is home to the MIVA Freshman of the Year, Thomas Jaeschke.

Smalzer represents the Ramblers on the AVCA All-America Second Team.

BYU leads Loyola in the overall series, 4-1. The Ramblers took the most recent meeting against the Cougars with a 3-2 win at Loyola.

Thursday’s semifinal winners will advance to the NCAA Championship on Saturday at 7 p.m. MDT. The match will be broadcast live on ESPNU. 

Tickets can be purchased at UCLAbruins.com.

Notes

Since its inaugural volleyball season in 1993, the winner of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) men’s volleyball tournament has gone on to capture the NCAA Championship 13 of the 20 years.

BYU has won four MPSF volleyball championships (1999, 2003, 2004, 2013).

Prior to 2013, the Cougars have reached the NCAA Final Four four times and have gone on to win the National Championship three times (1999, 2001, 2004).

In 2003 the Cougars won the MPSF tournament but lost in the NCAA title game to Lewis, who later forfeited its 2003 NCAA men's volleyball championship after an investigation found the team played an ineligible athlete.

Since winning its first MPSF title in 1999, BYU has captured more championships than any other team. The Cougars have five titles in that 15-year stretch. Pepperdine is second with three championships, while UCLA and UC Irvine have each won two titles.

Since its inaugural season (1993), MPSF schools have won 16 of the 20 NCAA Volleyball Championships.

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