UCI men’s volleyball head coach David Kniffin has fond memories of playing in the Smith Fieldhouse.
It is the site of the Anteater’s 2009 NCAA championship victory, and most recently, where UCI snapped BYU’s 36 home-match win streak in back-to-back wins last year.
Tonight, Kniffin hopes add another one to his collection as the No. 8 Anteaters (10-19 overall, 7-15 MPSF) look to upset the No. 1 BYU Cougars (23-3 overall, 19-3 MPSF) in the quarterfinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament.
“BYU has always been my favorite place to play, ever since I was a player; just going up there it’s such a unique environment and I think we’re fortunate now that we’re in a program that’s been up there and successful up there,” said Kniffin. “It’s a daunting place to play, but that’s exactly what makes it exciting.”
The advantage that BYU holds at home is evident- When playing at home, the Cougars are 22-6 against the Anteaters.
Both teams last played at the end of January, where the Cougars trounced the Anteaters with a pair of straight-set wins. All-American opposite Ben Patch led the Cougars on both nights, recording 16 and 17 kills respectively, and committed just three errors on 54 total swings.
Since playing against the Cougars, UCI have struggled on the season- due in part to personnel issues and a seemingly unending streak of player injuries.
While the Anteaters- with the exception of outside hitter Reid Dominquez who suffered a season-ending injury back in February- are all expected to be ready to play, upsetting the Cougars still remains a tall order.
BYU leads the 12-team conference with a .360 hitting percentage, while UCI ranks ninth at .265. The Cougars lead the conference in blocking with an average of 3.31 per set (runner-up Stanford only boasts 2.76). UCI, on the other hand, ranks 10th in blocks (it’s lowest ranking throughout all categories) and averages only 1.92 blocks per set.
However, as Kniffin can attest to, the postseason is a different beast from the regular season altogether. During his freshman year at the now-defunct Loyola Marymount program, the eighth-seeded Lions upset first-seed Long Beach State.
“As a freshman I didn’t play, and the whole season was a bit of a blur… but the one thing I remember about playoffs in the MPSF tournament is that nothing you’ve done before matters, and that the MPSF tournament is a whole new season,” said Kniffin.
The ‘Eaters are set to face the Cougars for a 6:00 p.m. start (Pacific Time) and will be aired on BYUTV.