(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- The BYU men's volleyball team will have its sights set on continuing to move up in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings with two matches at the University of Southern California Friday and Saturday, Mar. 4 and 5.
The Cougars took two from UC Irvine in Provo Feb. 25 and 26 to get back to .500 in the Federation at 4-4 and improve to 9-6 overall. The wins also helped BYU move up in the USA Today/CSTV Coaches Poll to No. 6 from its previous No. 7 ranking.
"Winning is always nice," BYU coach Tom Peterson said. "It's a good confidence boost to beat a talented team like Irvine. We need to take these two from USC to accomplish our team goals and to continue moving up in the MPSF standings so we can be among the top teams in the league at the end of the season."
The Cougars did manage to pick up some ground after defeating the Anteaters, improving their MPSF record from 2-4 to 4-4 and jumping from tenth place to sixth.
The USC Trojans have struggled thus far in 2005, standing at 4-14 overall and 1-10 in the MPSF. The team's only league win came against the UC San Diego Tritons, who are winless this season. Despite the Trojan's struggles, they have shown promise, taking Pacific, Long Beach State and Hawai'i to five games. They are coming off 3-0 losses to UC Santa Barbara (Feb. 23) and Cal State Northridge (Feb. 25).
"They're a scary team," Peterson said. "They have some tall players that can cause some problems. They're a talented team and we cannot afford to be up and down at all."
Although USC's roster includes the return of all six 2004 starters, the Trojans are still very young. While the roster includes four seniors, only two have seen significant playing time while one of those has split time with a freshman. J.T. Gilmour has played 33 of 65 games at setter while freshman Jimmy Killian has played in 38. Gilmour has seen more time recently, starting USC's two matches last week.
"They have all of their guys back from last season and one of their setters (Jimmy Killian) was a top recruit coming out of high school," BYU coach Tom Peterson said. "They should be very good but in this league, even when you play well, it doesn't guarantee a victory."
Blake Tippett, the Trojan's other senior starter, is leading the team with a 3.78 kills per game average while contributing 1.44 digs. USC's most efficient player has been Andrew Vernon, a 6-8 freshman middle blocker. He is averaging 2.32 kills per game while hitting .406, best among starters. Three other players average over two kills per game with Juan Figueroa at 2.94, Matt Mosko averaging 2.81 and Jose Grangeiro 2.64. Grangeiro is also a threat serving the ball and defensively, averaging team-highs in aces at 0.41 and digs at 2.14.
As a team, the Trojans are hitting .272 compared to .333 for their opponents. USC averages 2.22 blocks and 8.45 digs per game.
The series between the Cougars and the Trojans goes to BYU, which owns a 16-7 advantage. The Cougars have won the last six meetings and 11 of the last 12. In Los Angeles, BYU is 6-3. In 2004, the Cougars swept USC in the first match and came back from a 2-0 deficit to win in the second.
BYU will look to build on its sweep of UC Irvine by adding two more MPSF wins. The Cougars went with a new 2005 lineup that was similar to that of 2004, with Victor Batista starting at middle blocker. Batista had started every match at outside hitter before making the switch. Against the Anteaters he hit .357 and totaled nine blocks.
"It (the lineup) seemed to work against Irvine," Peterson said. "We'll probably stay with it for now as long as we're having success."
Michael Burke was on fire over the weekend averaging 3.29 kills per game, hitting .636 and registering nine blocks. On Saturday, he killed the winning point in every game. He is now hitting a team-best .496 in all matches and .500 in MPSF play. Last season against USC, Burke had the best match of his career hitting the ball, collecting 12 kills on 13 attempts with no errors for a .923 percentage.
Against UC Irvine, the Cougars struggled to a .275 hitting percentage in Friday's win before improving to .436 on Saturday. In that match, BYU had 56 kills, including 20 and 23 in the first two games.
A live audio broadcast will be available to Yahoo! Sports College Broadcast subscribers. To listen to the match, visit http://sports.yahoo.com/top/collegebroadcast/teams/pah.
After this weekend's matches with the Trojans, the Cougars will be back on the road the next weekend against the University of Pacific for two matches.