On the Road with BYU Men's Volleyball at UC Irvine

Riding a 10-game winning streak and impressive back-to-back road wins against UC Irvine last week, the No. 3-ranked BYU men's volleyball team now prepare for No. 6-ranked UC Santa Barbara in Provo this weekend.

The Santa Barbara Gauchos dispatched former No. 3 ranked Long Beach State. The Cougars complete their four-match home stand against Pepperdine next week.

We drove from San Diego to Irvine both nights, choosing to spend the extra time courtside watching both teams in warm ups rather than on the I-5 freeway by leaving home several hours early.

The 3-1 Saturday win was exciting despite the number of BYU service errors. I counted 28 BYU errors in four games compared with 11 for UC Irvine. The Cougars' final score was 26-30, 30-24, 30-21 and 30-26. However, they made up for their serving shortcomings with excellent defense with 31 digs and 11.5 total blocks – compared with UCI's eight blocks and 22 digs.

In the first game, BYU came out flat and there didn't seem to be much hope with UCI leading 8-1, 11-3 and then 13-4. But at that point, BYU started a comeback. The game was tied at 23, and the Cougars looked like they would win leading 26-24, but lost the last six points for an Anteaters first game win.

In the second game, BYU came out hitting and scoring, even as they committed nine service errors. However, their inspired play caused the majority of the spectators, two-thirds BYU supporters, to rally and win the rest of the around their team as they won the remaining three games. UCI never led in this game.

Perhaps the most entertaining was the third game with UCI enjoying a short-lived lead. There were great serves and lengthy, spectacular volleys by both teams. After one long volley of about seven or eight returns for both sides, the crowd gave BYU a standing ovation on scoring the point midway through the game. The athletes deserved it.

Exceptional efforts by both teams kept the ball in the air from side to side, with both sides blocking numerous kill attempts. It was in this game that freshman Victor Batista found his serving groove.

In the fourth and final game of the match, the score remained close throughout. Both teams continued with great play. Notably, BYU scored too points for their opponents with nine service errors in the rally scoring format. Since rally scoring was adopted by the NCAA, this BYU winning streak ties the longest streak from 2001 when the Cougars won the National Championship.

With UC Santa Barbara, Pepperdine, Hawaii and UCLA coming up, the Cougars have to work on reducing their costly service errors. BYU plays No. 6 ranked UC Santa Barbara this weekend and Pepperdine next week in a four-game Provo home-stand. They will later face UCLA and Hawaii on the road.

It was great to finally see junior Michael Burke play a lot on Saturday night after a preseason shoulder injury. He only played a few minutes in Thursday's match, but claimed 15 kills in 19 attempts and a career-high .737 percentage. He also added a match-high six blocks to help BYU to 11.5 total team blocks.

From watching this two-game series, there's no doubt a player to watch is true freshman starter, Victor Batista. He gets great height on his kills, blocks and serves. In Saturday's match, only one of his kill attempts was successfully defended.

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