Regular Season Concludes at Stanford
PALO ALTO -- Playing in its final matches of the regular season, the BYU men's volleyball team will look to lock up a third-place finish in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with two contests against the Stanford Cardinal this weekend at 7 p.m. (April 15 and 16) in Palo Alto, Calif.
The Cougars are 18-9 overall and are tied with the University of Hawai'i at 13-7 in the MPSF. BYU owns the advantage between the two teams, having defeated the Warriors in three meetings this season. Two wins this weekend would likely mean a potential match-up with Long Beach State or UC Santa Barbara in the first round of the MPSF tournament, depending on the outcomes of matches around the league.
"Obviously these are the most important matches to date," BYU coach Tom Peterson said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for us to not only secure a high seed but also play well to go into the playoffs next week with momentum. To be able to host is huge. We don't want to have to start on the road. We have a big advantage playing in the Smith Fieldhouse, and it would be great to give the fans one last chance to see us play."
BYU is coming off two dominant wins over MPSF cellar-dweller UC San Diego. The Cougars swept the Tritons both nights last weekend while several players turned in strong performances.
Stanford (11-12, 10-10) has won four of five and is also fighting for postseason seeding. The Cardinal are currently one match ahead of CS Northridge for the seventh spot and two behind UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State. The seventh- and eighth-place teams will play for the chance to square off with the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Cardinal setter Kevin Hansen is hailed by many coaches as the best setter in the nation despite playing under the radar in Palo Alto. Averaging 12.79 assists, 1.92 digs and 0.24 aces, his competitive drive is the key to Stanford's success.
"They have one of the best players in the country with national team potential," Peterson said of Hansen. "Many of the coaches say he's the best setter in the league. He's very competitive and is a big part of why they get going. We have to make sure we don't let him do all of his tricks."
Hansen keeps the opposition guessing by evenly distributing the sets as three Cardinal players average over three kills per game. Ben Reddy leads the way at 3.79 and also adds a team-high 0.31 aces and 1.55 digs. David Vogel is second in kills at 3.12 and tallies 2.01 digs per game. Craig Buell is the third player in the three kills per game club at 3.04 while leading the team in blocks per game at 1.09 and coming in second on the team in hitting percentage at .393.
"They're a good team, and they're getting better," Peterson said. "They've had some down years, but they're getting back to where they used to be. They're a well-coached team."
The Cardinal are coached by Don Shaw, who is in his sixth year coaching the men at Stanford after coaching the women's team for 16 years (1984-1999). During his tenure with the women he guided the Cardinal to four NCAA titles and 10 conference championships.
This weekend's matches will mark the 25th and 26th meetings between the schools, with BYU owning a 16-8 advantage. Since the 1999 season, when the Cougars won their first national title, BYU has won 10 of 11, including the last six.
Victor Batista is coming off a strong weekend in which he had 21 kills, hit .545 (21-3-33) and recorded five aces and seven blocks. His fourth and fifth aces tied and set the record for most service aces in a season by a BYU team at 152 and 153. The 2003 team registered 152 aces.
Peterson said this weekend's matches will test his team's character and determine whether or not they are prepared to make a run at the national championship.
"This is the end of the season, and this is why we play," he said. "It comes down to these two matches and the playoffs. This is where everyone's character shows, and we'll know if we have the character to be on track to win a championship. It boils down to our character as much as anything else."
Both matches will begin at 7 p.m., and Saturday's match will be televised on CSTV. Check your cable or satellite provider for local listings. To follow the matches online, visit http://www.byucougars.com/ or click here.