Rob Neilson and the Cougars will head to Long Beach for two matches with the 49ers. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
BYU HITS THE ROAD FOR STRETCH RUN
Riding a four-match win streak and in the hunt for a high seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation postseason tournament, the Cougars will play two matches on the road against league rival Long Beach State, April 6 and 7.
"These matches are very important to our seed in the tournament," BYU coach Tom Peterson said. "We need to win if we hope to finish second in the MPSF."
The Cougars, 18-4 overall, are currently third in the MPSF at 14-4, one match behind Hawai`i and two behind UC Irvine. BYU is likely out of the running for a first-place finish but has a shot at catching Hawai`i. Long Beach is currently sixth in the league at 10-8 and has a chance to move as high as third by winning its four-remaining matches and getting help from other teams.
Not only are the matches important for the teams' standing in the MPSF, but also regarding the series between the teams. Each team has won 13 matches, including a split in Provo last season. The 49ers dominated the series before the Cougars won seven-consecutive, including two regular season matches and the MPSF tournament championship and the NCAA National Championship matches in 2004.
"Long Beach has three of the best and most noted players in the country in Duncan Budinger, Tyler Hildebrand and Robert Tarr," Peterson said. "Hildebrand and Tarr have great national team potential. They have a lot of talent and can be great but they are streaky so you never know what to expect from them. We cannot allow them to get on a roll."
Tarr leads the 49ers in kills per game at 4.99 to go with 1.72 digs and 0.79 blocks per game. Budinger is second in kills, averaging 3.91, while Hildebrand is second in the nation in assists, averaging 13.71. Long Beach has lost its last three matches but won six of seven prior to its most recent streak.
BYU is coming off two wins over Pacific and has won four in a row. The Cougars received strong performances from middle blockers Russell Holmes and Victor Batista, who combined to hit .590 (54-8-78) and average 7.71 kills and 3.29 blocks per game. Yosleyder Cala was also a force, averaging 4.00 kills and 1.29 blocks and hitt.ng .385. BYU played both matches without All-American outside hitter Ivan Perez, who was recovering from a hamstring injury. He is expected to play this weekend.
Both matches will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Walter Pyramid. Following the Cougars' matches with Long Beach, BYU will head to Hawai`i for two matches with the Warriors, April 14 and 15.
LAST MATCHES - BYU vs. Pacific
The Cougars improved to 18-4 overall and 14-4 in the MPSF after defeating Pacific twice on March 31 and April 1. BYU took the first match in three games (30-28, 30-25, 30-23) behind the dominant play of its middle blockers, Russell Holmes (12 kills, five blocks, .526 hitting percentage) and Victor Batista (15 kills, three blocks, .545 hitting percentage). Yosleyder Cala also had a solid match, recording 13 kills, five digs and four blocks while hitting .417. The Tigers played the Cougars close in game one but BYU was in control throughout games two and three. The next night, senior night, the Cougars won in four games (30-26, 28-30, 30-23, 30-27). Holmes had 15 kills and seven blocks and hit .700 while Jonathan Charette and Cala also had 15 kills each. Victor Batista was also in double-digits with 12 kills to go with eight blocks.
BYU maintained its No. 2 ranking in the CSTV/AVCA Division I-II Men's Coaches Top 15 Poll for the fourth-consecutive week after two wins over Pacific, March 31 and April 1. The Cougars have held the second spot in the AVCA poll a total of seven weeks. BYU held the top spot for four-straight weeks, starting Feb. 13 after two wins over USC, but fell to second after two five-game losses to current No. 1 UC Irvine.
THE BIG FELLAS GET IT DONE
BYU middle blockers Victor Batista and Russell Holmes dominated Pacific both matches last weekend. In the first match, Batista had 15 kills and three blocks while hitting .545 and Holmes had 12 kills and five blocks and hit .526. In the second match, Holmes had 15 kills and six blocks and hit .700 and Batista had 12 kills and eight blocks and hit .588. For the weekend, they combined to hit .590 (54-8-78) and average 7.71 kills and 3.29 blocks per game.
Rob Neilson had BYU's offense in high gear Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1, against Pacific. In the first match, he set the Cougars to a .333 hitting percentage while recording 54 assists (18.0 per game), a season high in a three-game match. The next night, he set BYU to a .430 hitting percentage in the Cougars' four-game victory. For the weekend, he averaged 16.71 assists per game and set BYU to a .385 hitting percentage.
HOME COURT ADVANTAGE
BYU finished its home regular season with a 13-1 record, a winning percentage of .929. The record ranks fourth in Cougar history behind the 1998 (11-0, 1.000), 2004 (16-1, .941) and 1999 (15-1, .938) seasons. BYU started with seven-consecutive home wins before losing to Pepperdine and finished with six wins in a row. The Cougars also set a new attendance mark in 2006, as at least 2,000 fans attended every home match for the first time in school history. BYU is averaging 3,516 fans per match, the second highest average in school history, behind the 1999 season when 4,748 attended each match. The Cougars will host a first round MPSF tournament match if they finish in the top four of the regular season standings.
A LOOK AT LONG BEACH STATE
Long Beach State is currently 17-9 overall and 10-8 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The 49ers are sixth in the MPSF and have clinched a spot in the MPSF postseason tournament. If the season ended today, BYU would play Long Beach in the quarterfinals of the MPSF tournament. The 49ers are on a three-match losing streak, having dropped matches to UC Irvine (4/1), UCLA (3/31) and CS Northridge (3/24). Robert Tarr leads Long Beach by averaging 4.99 kills per game and Duncan Budinger is second, averaging 3.91 kills. Tarr and Tyler Hildebrand were first-team All-Americans last season while Budinger was a second-team All-American in 2005.
LAST TIME VS. LONG BEACH STATE
BYU and Long Beach played twice in 2005 and split the matches in Provo. The 49ers took the first meeting in three games, out-hitting the Cougars .415 to .339. Ivan Perez led BYU with 22 kills and hit .390 and added six digs and five blocks. Duncan Budinger had 12 kills and hit .647 for Long Beach. The Cougars came back the next night and won in five games. Perez had another big night, recording a career-high 25 kills to lead BYU.
SERIES NOTES VS. LONG BEACH STATE
The Cougars and 49ers will meet for the 27th and 28th times in the history of the series when they square off Thursday and Friday in The Walter Pyramid. The series is tied, 13-13, and Long Beach owns a 6-5 advantage at home. The teams split two matches in Provo last season but the Cougars defeated the 49ers four times in 2004, including wins in the MPSF championship match and the NCAA championship match. Those four wins capped a seven-match win streak for BYU over Long Beach. The 49ers won seven of the first eight meetings in the series and the Cougars have won eight of the last nine.