The Cougars will look to preserve their undefeated record when they host the Cal Baptist Lancers Friday and Saturday in the Smith Fieldhouse. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- After finishing the Outrigger Tournament with an unblemished 3-0 record, the BYU men's volleyball team returns to Provo to play its first home matches of the season at the Smith Fieldhouse against California Baptist University Friday and Saturday night. Friday's match will begin at 7:30 p.m. while the Saturday match will start at 7:00 p.m.
Despite only returning two starters from the 2004 National Championship squad, the Cougars defeated Lewis, Penn State, and Hawai'i and are currently ranked No. 3 in the nation by Volleyball Magazine, after starting the season at No. 5. Senior Michael Burke was named the tournament MVP while junior Victor Batista and senior Casey Patterson were also named to the All-Tournament team.
This weekend's matchup against the Cal Baptist Lancers will be BYU's final tune-up before beginning Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play Jan. 21 and 22 at UC Santa Barbara. The Lancers come in as one of the powerhouses of the NAIA, having won three championships in the past six seasons.
"Cal won the NAIA and they are very, very good," BYU head coach Tom Peterson said. "They're one of the top teams in the country. They have different rules that give them more access to the foreign players so they have some very good players."
Cal Baptist opened the season with matches against UC Irvine and UC San Diego, two MPSF teams. The Lancers made quick work of both teams, earning the 30-24, 30-24, 30-17 sweep of UC Irvine and defeating UC San Diego in three games (30-23, 30-22, 30-25). The Lancers will play two more MPSF teams, Pepperdine and UCLA, before playing the Cougars.
While this is only the second meeting between the two teams, with BYU sweeping the first match in 2001, there are a few connections between Cal Baptist and the Cougars. Rafael Paal, who played for BYU from 2002-03, started his career with the Lancers. Tim Layton, who was also a member of the Cougars from 2002-03, now plays for Cal Baptist.
BYU's trip to Hawai'i was successful not only because the Cougars finished undefeated, but because many new players gained experienced and the coaches were able to try players in different spots in the rotation. Patterson was one player who came up big when given the chance. He came off the bench in the first two matches and provided a needed spark when BYU was struggling with errors and inconsistency. On Friday, he earned the first start of his career and finished with career highs of 19 kills and 10 digs.
"It is nice to see the depth we have at outside and opposite with Casey coming in," Peterson said. "He played both positions coming in for Ivan (Perez) and Taylor (Evans) when they had down periods. Having three guys for two positions is just wonderful."
Peterson was happy with the wins but does not want to get too excited over the recent success.
"It's a cautious optimism just because of momentum swings in volleyball," he said.
Burke hit .439 for the week and averaged 3.38 kills, 1.15 digs, and 1.15 blocks per game. Batista led the Cougars with 4.15 kills per game despite struggling at times with his hitting. Junior setter Rob Neilson was also impressive in his debut as the starting setter. While guiding the BYU offense, he averaged 13.62 assists per game and finished second on the team with .77 blocks per game and third on the team with 1.69 digs per game. He also had kills at key times during the match versus Hawai'i to help the Cougars take the tournament.
The 2005 season marks the third with Peterson at the helm. In 2003, the BYU finished 23-7 and second in the nation after losing to Lewis in the NCAA Championship match. The Cougars returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and defeated Long Beach State in the championship match, giving BYU its third National Championship in six seasons. The Cougars finished the 2004 season with a 29-4 record.