The BYU men's volleyball team is the unanimous number one team in the country in week four of the regular season.
After topping #1 UC Irvine on Friday night (watch it here if you missed it) and then #13 UC San Diego on Saturday the Cougars, who were ranked third, jumped to number one with some help from #7 USC who defeated #2 Stanford. It's the first time BYU has been ranked first since January 30, 2012.
The Cougars are off to a 5-1 start with wins against Hawaii (2), #13 Lewis, #1 UC Irvine and #13 UC San Diego. BYU has a bye this week, then plays #7 Long Beach State and #9 Cal State Northridge next weekend.
The season is long. BYU has played six of its 26 regular season matches with the first 10 coming at home (four more), then 10 of the final 16 on the road. It's a marathon and the Cougars don't want to peak early. The good news is BYU has shown it's correctable flawed, but is deemed the best in the country. I like this team.
What do rankings mean anyway? It's nice to boast the top team in the land, which draws in tickets sales, viewers and general interest in the team. However, as of Wednesday, BYU held the more important distinction of top dog in the uber-competitive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation at 4-0. Getting a win against Irvine (who played without two starters) to push the Anteaters to 1-3 in MPSF play did a lot for BYU down the road in conference play, and the MPSF has shown there is a lot of parity in it this year.
BYU is the last of the undefeated teams in conference play, while pre-season favorites Irvine, USC, UCLA and Stanford all have at least two conference losses in their first four matches. The Cougars haven't played the toughest of opponents yet, but it's a great start.
With the graduation of starters Futi Tavana (middle blocker), Robb Stowell (opposite) and Joe Kauliakamoa (setter), here's who replaced them and how they've fared thus far:
Devin Young (MB)
"D-Why" as his Twitter handle says became very effective the last three matches. After not playing in a single match his first three seasons, the redshirt junior has to fill the shoes of BYU's second all-time leading blocker. Young is hitting .346, has three aces and is tied for second on the team with 20 blocks. At an athletic 6'9'' Young has progressed in his short time as a starter and shows he can compliment the fifth-year senior Russ Lavaja nicely in the middle.
Ben Patch (OPP)
Patch is going to be talked about the entire year in volleyball circles. As MVP of the NORCECA Junior Continental Championships this summer for the USA, he is one of the best recruits BYU has every signed. At 6'8'' he is extremely athletic and can touch 11'11''. He has a ton of talent and is the X factor in my mind of where BYU finishes this season.
Patch could take BYU to the top with good (not even great) play as he compliments Sander as the opposite. Patch is hitting .227 which is a little low, but as a freshman six matches into the season he's doing well enough. That percentage will go up and so will the ceiling for what he can do. He is very fun to watch and brings a ton of energy to the court.
Ryan Boyce (S)
The setter position is like officiating. You are doing well if we don't notice you. Boyce, who wears a large mustache that appears to be ripped straight off a Pringles can, has paced BYU to a .333 hitting percentage through six matches. He is tied with the 6'9'' Young for total blocks and has set the Cougars quick offense. The senior has been a leader for some time in practice and now in his turn as the guy he is pacing the Cougars nicely. As the quarterback of the offense it's nice to have a seasoned, level-headed setter who will seize the moment.
In other news this week, junior outside hitter Taylor Sander was named Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week with 27 kills over the weekend, hitting .375. Sander also recorded two aces to move him into second place all-time in BYU history in aces and number one during the rally era (2001-now).
Our next live men's volleyball broadcast is Friday, February 1, at 9pm ET/7pm MT, with the Cougars hosting Long Beach State. That match was originally scheduled for Thursday, but now with play on Friday it's a TV game.
Additional good news: the USC match on March 30 was moved to 10pm ET/8pm MT to accommodate TV. It was conflicting previously with the LDS Young Women's broadcast.
We originally planned to broadcast nine of the 16 home matches on TV. Now it's 11. The other five have direct conflicts with men's basketball broadcasts.