(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
MALIBU -- The BYU Cougars will jump back into Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play Friday and Saturday with matches against No. 2 Pepperdine at Firestone Fieldhouse.
The Cougars, 7-4 overall and 2-2 in the MPSF, are now No. 6 in the nation after splitting two matches at the Hall of Fame Classic in Springfield, Mass. BYU swept Ball State but lost to Penn State after having a 2-0 advantage in the championship match.
"It was very disappointing to not gut one out that we should have been able to get (against Penn State)," BYU coach Tom Peterson said. "We have to get better with things other than just physical talent. We have to develop our will and desire to always be playing well."
The Waves have started the 2005 season at a blistering pace, boasting a 6-1 record overall and in the MPSF, including a four-match win streak. Their only loss was to UCLA.
Outside hitter Sean Rooney, a three-time All American, leads the way for Pepperdine. Through the weekend, he was averaging 5.41 kills per game while hitting .380.
"We have to be able to slow down Rooney," Peterson said. "He is considered by many to be the best player in college volleyball."
Middle blocker Andy Hein is another dangerous player, averaging 2.48 kills per game and leading the team in blocking with 1.30 per game. The Waves offense is guided by freshman setter Jonathan Winder, who was touted as one of the top recruits coming out of high school. Standing at 6-8, he is also a blocking threat, averaging 0.88 per game.
One of Pepperdine's strengths is its height. Middle blockers Hein and Tom Hulse stand at 6-11 and 6-8 while outside hitters Rooney and John Parfitt are 6-9 and 6-7. With the 6-8 Winder running the offense, the Waves are a threat to get a block at any time.
"They'll be the tallest team we face this season," Peterson said. "They are absolutely huge. We have to be able to pass well. If we get out of system, they'll have their big guys there waiting for us and ready to block."
These two matches are important for both teams as each is in the hunt for the MPSF regular season title and has hopes of hosting the postseason tournament.
"They're huge matches," Peterson said. "If we want to be in contention to be one of the top teams then we need to beat all of these top teams. It really puts us behind if they beat us twice."
This weekend's matches will mark the 35th and 36th meetings between BYU and Pepperdine with the Waves owning a 19-15 edge. The Cougars have won the last three matches, all in Provo. The most recent was the quarterfinals of the 2004 MPSF tournament, which went five games.
The overall record does not include two preseason matches that BYU won in October. The Cougars managed to sweep the shorthanded Waves, playing without Rooney, both nights in the Smith Fieldhouse.
Victor Batista is leading the way for BYU, averaging 4.21 kills per game. His solid hitting performance in Springfield raised his hitting percentage to .305. Ivan Perez, who sat out Saturday's match against Penn State with a sore knee, is second on the team with a 2.67 kills per game average. His status is still uncertain for this weekend.
Michael Burke continues to have a strong season, leading the Cougars with 1.36 blocks per game and a .456 hitting percentage. Brian Rowley is leading the team in digs with an average of 1.70 per game while Rob Neilson is handing out 13.51 assists per game.
"These matches are very important to us for our development," Peterson said. "It's going to test our character to play against a very well-coached and big team."
To follow the match online, visit http://pepperdinesports.collegesports.com/sports or click here. A live video broadcast will be available to Yahoo! Sports College Broadcast subscribers. To view match, visit http://sports.yahoo.com/top/collegebroadcast/teams/pah.
After playing Pepperdine, BYU will have a week off and then play UC Irvine at home, Feb. 25 and 26.