PROVO -- After dropping three of its last four matches on a gruelling, four-day California road trip last week, the BYU men's volleyball team returns to the friendly confines of the Smith Fieldhouse on Wednesday, March 8, taking on 11th-ranked Ball State (10-5). Match time is slated for 3 p.m. (MST).
"We're looking at Wednesday's match as the first day of the rest of our season," BYU head coach Carl McGown said. "Ball State is a very tall team and will present a tough challenge at the net. We're going to have to play well and hopefully, we will be able to use this match as a springboard for the remainder of the season."
Wednesday's contest will kickoff a seven-match homestand that will span a period of six weeks before the Cougars head to the MPSF Tournament on April 22 at a site yet to be determined. BYU will also look to extend its 38-match Smith Fieldhouse win streak against the Cardinals.
"Last week's trip was very demanding on our team," McGown said. "We were close to taking both matches against UCLA to a fifth game on their home court, but we just couldn't get it done. After battling a couple injuries and some illness throughout the week, we just ran out of gas on Saturday (at UC Irvine). We just need to look at the positives from last week, rather than the bad and take advantage of being at home for the next six weeks before we head in to our conference tournament."
Wednesday's match will be a non-conference contest against the Cardinals, marking the first time the two teams have met since April 8, 1997. The Cougars have won four of the last five meetings against Ball State, however the Cardinals have also won four matches since the two teams first met in 1990. BYU owns a 3-1 record over the Cardinals in the Smith Fieldhouse, including a 3-1 win in 1997.
The Cougars will look to sophomore Mike Wall for his offensive firepower against Ball State. Wall, a 6-4 outside hitter has tallied 105 kills over the last four matches, including a career-high 42 kills against UCLA and 33 kills against UC Irvine. Wall is averaging a team-leading 5.08 kills per game, including a stellar 6.18 kills-per-game average over the last four matches. The middle-blocking duo of Matt Olsen and Scott Bunker will have their work cut out for them against a BSU front line that averages 6-8. Olsen and Bunker have combined for 42 percent of the Cougars' total blocks on the season, while Mac Wilson, who missed the first 11 matches with a broken finger, has come on to record 51 blocks over the last 26 games, averaging nearly two blocks per game. Bunker leads the team with a 2.40 blocks-per-game average.
Senior setter Chris Pitzak picked up career assist No. 3,265 and became the Cougars' second-leading all-time assist leader on Saturday, passing current All-American Hector Lebron on the career list. Pitzak has recorded 1,404 assists on the season, averaging 19.23 per game.
The Cardinals are led by middle blockers Mark Lau and Matt Denmark. Both Denmark and Lau stand 6-8 and average over five kills and four blocks per game. Brian Hughes leads the Cardinals with 292 kills on the season, averaging 4.79 per game. Ball State is 10-5 on the season and enters Wednesday's match riding a two-match win streak. The Cardinals are 3-2 on the road this season and have posted a 1-0 record on the road against non-conference opponents.