Ivan Perez and the Cougars will be in Springfield, Mass. this weekend for the Hall of Fame Classic. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- Coming off a split with the No. 1 ranked UCLA Bruins, the No. 4 ranked BYU Cougars will head to Springfield, Mass. for the Hall of Fame-Morgan Classic Friday and Saturday.
BYU Coach Tom Peterson said he is looking forward to visiting the birthplace of volleyball and playing some of the best teams in the East.
"It's a neat opportunity to go see where volleyball was invented and learn some of the history," he said. "The young people need to learn the history about what they are doing. It's a great chance to play a few more of the best teams in country
This marks the Cougar's first trip to the Classic, a tournament in its 18th year. BYU will play the Ball State Cardinals at 6 p.m. EST on Friday in the first round while the Penn State Nittany Lions will play the host Springfield College Pride at 8 p.m. EST. The winners will play Saturday at 8 p.m. while the losers will play in the consolation match at 6 p.m.
"Ball State is a good team," Peterson said. "They are one of the top teams that will be favored to win the MIVA."
Ball State started the 2005 season at 3-0 but has fallen on hard times, losing three straight to Lewis, Penn State, and George Mason. Outside hitter Nick Meyer leads the Cardinals with a 3.88 kills per game average. As a team, Ball State is hitting .219 on the season.
The Cougars face the possibility of playing Penn State for the second time this season. BYU defeated the No. 6 ranked Nittany Lions in a come-from-behind, five-game thriller at the Outrigger Tournament in Honolulu. Penn State is now on a five-match win streak since the loss to the Cougars.
"Penn State will be favored to beat Springfield so we will probably have to win on Friday to play them again," Peterson said.
Alex Gutor is leading the way for the Nittany Lions, averaging 3.87 kills per game. Matt Proper is not far behind, registering 3.59 kills per contest.
Springfield College, the tournament host, is the only Division III team in the pool. While the Pride has started the season at 1-4, they have been one of the dominant teams at the Division III level, winning the championship in 2002 and 2003. Brandon Mueller has averaged 5.70 kills per game in Springfield's last three matches.
Junior outside hitter is leading the way for BYU, averaging 4.20 kills per game. Senior middle blocker Michael Burke has been consistent all season, contributing 2.66 kills per game and leading the team with a .446 hitting percentage and a 1.40 blocks per game average. Against UCLA on Friday, he registered a career high 10 blocks, three of which were solos.
BYU will be looking to gain some momentum before jumping back into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation race. At 6-3 overall and 2-2 in league play, the Cougars are in the middle of the pack but in good position to get to the top after a split with the No. 1 ranked UCLA Bruins.
Peterson said his team will need to continue to work hard and improve its consistency to move up.
"We still have to play every match like it's a championship match for us to get better," Peterson said. "We can't afford to have a good night then a bad night like we've been having."
After the Hall of Fame Classic, BYU will travel to Malibu, Calif. and play No. 2 Pepperdine University, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11 and 12. Friday's match will begin at 7 p.m. PST while Saturday's will start at 3 p.m. PST.