Thursday, March 29, 2012

Men's Weekend Preview: March 30-April 1


by Vinnie Lopes | Off the Block editor
Vinnie Lopes is the editor of Off the Block, a website that focuses on Division I-II NCAA men’s volleyball, and has covered college men’s volleyball since 2007. For top five matches to follow every Friday and Saturday during the regular season, go to Off the Block at offtheblockblog.com.




It doesn't get much bigger than this in regular season play.

Two matches between top-five nationally ranked teams highlight this weekend. No. 1 UC Irvine and No. 3 UCLA meet with first place in the MPSF on the line, while No. 2 USC and No. 5 Stanford play each other with both teams trying to bolster their resume for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Check out the top five matches from around the nation to follow this weekend. 

1. No. 1 UC Irvine (18-3, 14-3 MPSF) vs. No. 3 UCLA (19-4, 13-3 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Irvine, Calif.
What to know: Three weeks after UC Irvine upset then-No. 1 UCLA in five games at the Wooden Center, the two teams will meet again in conference play with significant postseason ramifications on the line. The Anteaters enter the weekend in first place in the MPSF and lead the second-place Bruins by a half-match. Beyond the race for the MPSF regular season title, this match has also implications on the NCAA Tournament. Both UCLA and UC Irvine will likely be among the teams that the NCAA Tournament selection committee has under consideration for the Final Four. Two of the seven pieces of criteria the selection committee uses to determine tournament seeding and the lone at-large bid is head-to-head record and record against other teams under consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Along with the postseason ramifications, this match will feature two of the top offensive teams in the nation. UC Irvine leads the MPSF with a .367 attack percentage, while UCLA is third in the conference with a .347 attack percentage.

2. No. 2 USC (16-4, 12-4 MPSF) vs. No. 5 Stanford (14-5, 11-4 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Los Angeles
What to know: USC's home match against another top five nationally ranked team will have a throwback feel as the match will be played in North Gym instead of the Galen Center. North Gym, which has a seating capacity of 1,000, was the original home court for the Trojans when the program began in 1970. USC last placed in the North Gym during the 2006 season before moving to the more spacious Galen Center. However, a previous-contracted event at the Galen Center resulted in the Trojans moving back to North Gym for the next two weeks. This will be the second time this season that USC and Stanford will play each other. Trojans outside attacker Tony Ciarelli had a season-high 28 kills as USC upset then-No. 1 Stanford in five games in February. USC is also on a nation-best 12-match winning streak, and if it wins both its matches this weekend it would be on the program's longest winning streak since 1991. Stanford returns to the court following a 23-day layoff between matches. The Cardinal in its last match was upset on its home court by Hawai'i.

3. No. 10 Ohio State (14-8, 4-3 MIVA) vs. Loyola (16-10, 7-3 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7:05 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio - Big Ten Network
What to know: For the first time in recent history, a MIVA match will be nationally televised live. Ohio State will play host to Loyola in a conference match that will air on the Big Ten Network. Loyola has won four MIVA matches in the last 10 days to jump into second place in the conference standings. In addition, Loyola rallied from a two-game deficit to upset No. 6 Lewis on Tuesday -- the Ramblers first victory against a top 10 ranked team this season. The Buckeyes enter this weekend having lost two of their last three matches since their bye week. Ohio State coming out of its bye week lost to Ball State -- their first loss to the Cardinals in four years -- and then split a two-match series against Quincy.  The Loyola-Ohio State match will also feature two of the top opposites in the conference. Ohio State outside attacker Shawn Sangrey leads the nation with a 4.91 kills per game average, while Loyola outside attacker Joseph Smalzer is fifth in the MIVA with a 3.57 kills per game average and was named the AVCA National Player of the Week on Tuesday. 

4. No. 7 Penn State (16-3, 9-0 EIVA) vs. Princeton (7-7, 5-5 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. in Princeton, N.J.
What to know: The EIVA top freshman will go up against the conference's dynasty. Princeton and its freshman outside attacker Cody Kessel will play host to Penn State on Friday. Kessel leads all freshmen in the nation with a 3.91 kills per game average, including a season-high 31 kills in a five-game victory against Juniata last week. However, the first time Penn State and Princeton played this season Kessel was held to eight kills in a three-game loss. Penn State, the 13-time defending EIVA championships, has already clinched a berth to the four-team EIVA Tournament. In addition, the Nittany Lions are five wins away from their fourth consecutive undefeated season in conference play.


5. No. 10 Long Beach State (11-12, 6-10 MPSF) vs. Hawai'i (7-16, 4-14 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Honolulu.
What to know: Hawai'i's last gasp effort to make a run at a spot in the MPSF Tournament will be this weekend as it opens a two-match series against Long Beach State. With four matches remaining in its conference schedule, Hawai'i is in 11th place and three matches behind Long Beach State for the final berth in the eight-team conference tournament. In addition, Hawai'i is on a four-match losing streak, including losing two matches to seventh-place Cal State Northridge last week. The Warriors have failed to qualify for the MPSF Tournament twice since joining the conference in 1994. Long Beach State travels to Hawai'i after upsetting No. 4 BYU in five games last week to split their two-match series. That victory also snapped a four-match losing streak for the 49ers and was their second MPSF victory in almost one month.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Men's Weekend Preview: March 23-25

by Vinnie Lopes | Off the Block editor

Vinnie Lopes is the editor of Off the Block, a website that focuses on Division I-II NCAA men’s volleyball, and has covered college men’s volleyball since 2007. For top five matches to follow every Friday and Saturday during the regular season, go to Off the Block at offtheblockblog.com.



Less than a month from the start of the conference tournaments, teams will be jockeying for postseason seeding in several critical match-ups this weekend in college men's volleyball.

No. 4 BYU will attempt to take sole possession of first place in the MPSF as it travels to play No. 9 Long Beach State. In addition, Grand Canyon will try to continue its shocking run through the MIVA and upset Loyola in a two-match weekend series.

Check out the top five men's volleyball matches from around the nation to follow this weekend:


1. No. 4 BYU (17-4, 13-3 MPSF) vs. No. 9 Long Beach State (10-11, 5-9 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Long Beach, Calif.
What to know: BYU has a chance to move into sole possession of first place in the MPSF by the end of the weekend if it can sweep its two-match series against Long Beach State. BYU is on a six-match winning streak and is a half-match behind first-place No. 1 UC Irvine -- who is idle this week. A big reason for the Cougars rise in the MPSF standings is the return of outside attacker Taylor Sander from a hand injury. Sander has at least 15 kills in four of the six matches since returning to the court. Long Beach State enters this weekend on a three-match losing streak, including a home loss to last-place UC San Diego last week.  In addition, the 49ers are on a seven-match losing streak to the Cougars dating back to 2008.


2. Loyola (13-10, 4-3 MIVA) vs. Grand Canyon (14-9, 5-1 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Phoenix, Ariz.
What to know: The two biggest surprise teams in the MIVA will face each other in a two-match series that could be critical for determining conference tournament seeding. Grand Canyon after being unanimously picked to finish in last place in MIVA Preseason Coaches Poll has a half-match lead on No. 7 Lewis for first place in the conference. In addition, Grand Canyon returns home after sweeping a two-match series against IPFW last weekend -- which was the Antelopes’ first road conference wins since joining the MIVA in 2010. Loyola was picked to win the conference in the MIVA Preseason Coaches Poll, but is in fourth place midway through the MIVA season. This match will also feature two of the top outside attackers in the MIVA. Grand Canyon outside attacker Ben Ponnet is third in the MIVA averaging 3.97 kills per game, while Loyola outside attacker Mike Bunting is fifth with a 3.49 kills per game average. 

3. Hawai'i (7-14, 4-12 MPSF) vs. Cal State Northridge (8-13, 4-10 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Northridge, Calif.
What to know: Hawai'i and Cal State Northridge will battle for the final spot in the MPSF Tournament as they open a two-match conference series Friday. With four weeks remaining in the regular season, Hawai'i trails Cal State Northridge by one match for eighth place in the MPSF -- the final berth to the eight-team MPSF Tournament. Both teams enter this series on losing streaks. The Warriors are on a two-match losing streak and have nine of their last 10 MPSF matches, while the Matadors are on a three-match losing streak -- including a non-conference loss to Harvard. The series finale between Hawai'i and Cal State Northridge will also be nationally televised in ESPN3. This is the first time this season that a men's volleyball match will air on an ESPN network.

4. No. 2 USC (15-4, 12-4 MIVA) vs. George Mason (7-11, 3-4 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles
What to know: If USC is to make a run at a spot in the four-team NCAA Tournament, its non-conference match against George Mason may have greater significance than at initial glance. A team's non-conference record is one of the eight pieces of criteria that the NCAA volleyball selection committee uses to determine seeding and the lone at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. USC is 3-0 in non-conference play and holds an edge in that category over other projected teams in Final Four consideration -- UC Irvine, BYU, UCLA, Stanford, Penn State and Lewis. However, a loss to George Mason in its non-conference finale could result in USC no longer holding the edge in the category at the end of the season. The Trojans are on a nation-best 10-match winning streak, including a sweep of its cross-town rival UCLA last week. George Mason coming off of a bye week has won three of its last four matches and is in sixth place in the EIVA.

5. No. 8 Penn State (14-3, 7-0 EIVA) vs. NJIT (8-11, 3-2 EIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Newark, N.J.
What to know: The New Jersey Institute of Technology on its team's Facebook fan page posted a one-word status to promote its home match against Penn State: believe. There's going to need to be a lot of believing -- and then some -- for NJIT to upset Penn State. Penn State, the 13-time defending EIVA championships, midway through its EIVA season has yet to lose a set. The Nittany Lions also have a chance to join the 2009 Penn State team as the only teams in NCAA men's volleyball history to go an entire conference season without losing a game. NJIT is 1-28 all-time against Penn State with the one win coming in 1998. Penn State since that upset 14 years ago has not lost to NJIT and has only dropped two games against the Highlanders.
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Men's Weekend Preview: March 16-18


by Vinnie Lopes | Off the Block editor
Vinnie Lopes is the editor of Off the Block, a website that focuses on Division I-II NCAA men’s volleyball, and has covered college men’s volleyball since 2007. For top five matches to follow every Friday and Saturday during the regular season, go to Off the Block at offtheblockblog.com.



It’s all about the story lines on the sidelines this week in college men’s volleyball.

Al Scates
UCLA coach Al Scates and Pepperdine coach Marv Dunphy will face each other for the final time in a coaching rivalry stretching back 35 years. In addition, Mike Wilton after being the Hawai’i head coach for 17 years will make his first trip back to Hawai’i as a BYU assistant coach.


Check out the top five matches from around the nation to follow this weekend:


Marv Dunphy
1. No. 2 UCLA (18-4, 12-3 MPSF) vs. No. 8 Pepperdine (11-9, 7-8 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. in Los Angeles
What to know: Two of the greatest coaches in NCAA volleyball history will face each other for the final time in the regular season. Pepperdine and coach Marv Dunphy will travel to play UCLA and coach Al Scates, who will retire at the end of the regular season. Scates and Dunphy have a combined more than 75 years of head coaching experience and more than 1,500 career victories. In addition, both coaches are in the Volleyball Hall of Fame and the AVCA Hall of Fame. Scates leads the all-time series against Dunphy 54-31 dating back to 1977. UCLA enters this Scates versus Dunphy finale after losing to then-No. 2 UC Irvine on Saturday and No. 3 USC on Wednesday -- the first time this season the Bruins lost back-to-back matches. Pepperdine has won three of its last four matches, including a sweep against UC Santa Barbara earlier this week. That victory against the Gauchos snapped the Waves' three-match MPSF losing streak.

2. No. 4 BYU (15-4, 11-3 MPSF) vs. Hawai'I (7-12, 4-10 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Honolulu
What to know: The most intriguing storyline for this two-match weekend MPSF series has nothing to do with the players on the court. Mike Wilton, after winning a program-record 300 matches as Hawai’i’s head coach, will return to Honolulu for the first time as a BYU assistant coach. Wilton coached Hawai’i for 17 years before retiring in 2009. The Warriors in 2002 under Wilton won the program’s only national championship, but the title was later vacated because of NCAA rule violations. BYU is on a four-match winning streak since the return of All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander from a hand injury. Sander also has a team-high 60 combined kills in the four matches. Hawai'i returns to the Honolulu after upsetting Stanford in its last match. The Warriors are also a half-match behind Cal State Northridge for the final MPSF Tournament berth.

3. No. 1 UC Irvine (17-3, 13-3 MPSF) vs. No. 10 Long Beach State (10-9, 5-7 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Long Beach, Calif.
What to know: The top two serving teams in the MPSF will play each other in a pivotal conference match. UC Irvine leads the nation with a 1.79 aces per game average, while Long Beach State is second in the conference and eighth in the nation with a 1.32 aces per game average. In addition, UC Irvine outside attackers Carson Clark and Jeremy Dejno are two of the four players in the nation with at least 30 aces this season. The Anteaters are on an eight-match winning streak and moved to No. 1 in the national rankings following its five-game road victory against then-No. 1 UC Irvine last week. Long Beach State resumes MPSF play after beating IPFW and losing to No. 7 Lewis at the Active Ankle Tournament last week.

4. No. 10 Ohio State (13-6, 3-1 MIVA) vs. Ball State (11-8, 3-4 MIVA)
Match vitals: 5 p.m. Sunday in Muncie, Ind.
What to know: The oldest Midwest rivalry in NCAA volleyball will be renewed once again as Ball State plays host to Ohio State. The 52-year rivalry, though, has been one-sided in recent years. The Cardinals are on a program-worst 11-match losing streak to the Buckeyes dating back to 2008, including a three-game loss to Ohio State in February. This match is also a near must-win for Ball State if it wants to continue its 12-year streak of hosting at least one match in the MIVA Tournament. The Cardinals are in sixth place in the MIVA and will likely have to go 4-1 in its five conference matches remaining to finish in the MIVA top four. Ohio State coming off of its bye week is in second place in the MIVA and a half-match behind first-place Lewis.


5. No. 3 USC (14-4, 11-4 MPSF) vs. UC Santa Barbara (5-14, 3-12 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Santa Barbara, Calif.
What to know: USC will play UC Santa Barbara with a chance to finish its three-match road trip undefeated and bring the nation-best winning streak to double digits. USC swept its cross-town rival No. 2 UCLA on Wednesday to extend its winning streak to nine matches and have defeated five top-10 ranked teams during the streak. In addition, outside attacker Toni Ciarelli is third in the nation with a 4.00 kills per game average. UC Santa Barbara is on a five-match conference losing streak following a three-game loss to Pepperdine on Wednesday. The Gauchos are also 1.5 matches behind Cal State Nothridge for the final spot in the MPSF Tournament.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Men's Weekend Preview: March 9, 2012


by Vinnie Lopes | Off the Block editor
Vinnie Lopes is the editor of Off the Block, a website that focuses on Division I-II NCAA men’s volleyball, and has covered college men’s volleyball since 2007. For top five matches to follow every Friday and Saturday during the regular season, go to Off the Block at offtheblockblog.com.


The biggest weekend of non-conference matches is being overshadowed by a match-up between the top two teams in the nation.

No. 1 UCLA will play host to No. 2 UC Irvine as the Bruins attempt to extend their first-place lead in the MPSF. In addition, No. 6 Penn State and No. 7 Lewis travel to the West Coast looking to beat MPSF teams in non-conference play.

Check out the top five men's volleyball matches from around the nation to follow this weekend.

1. No. 1 UCLA (17-2, 11-1 MPSF) vs. No. 2 UC Irvine (15-3, 11-3 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Los Angeles
What to know: There couldn't be more intriguing story lines for this match between the top two teams in the nation. UC Irvine coach John Speraw will face UCLA with him being considered one of the leading candidates to replace Hall of Fame Bruins coach Al Scates, who will retire at the end of the season. This match could also have significant ramifications with the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Head-to-head record is among the seven pieces of criteria used by the committee to determine NCAA Tournament seeding and the lone at-large bid. More immediate, though, a UCLA victory could give the Bruins a commanding lead in the MPSF. UCLA has a one-and-half match lead over second-place UC Irvine with nine matches remaining in the MPSF regular season.

2. No. 3 Penn State (13-2, 6-0 EIVA) vs. No. 5 USC (11-4, 9-4 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles
What to know: Thirty years after Penn State defeated USC in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, the two teams will meet in a non-conference match. Penn State coach Mark Pavlik, who was a member of that 1982 Nittany Lions team, and his Nittany Lions will play a road match against the Trojans for the first time in program history. Penn State is the highest ranked non-West Coast team but lost to No. 10 Pepperdine on Thursday to snap its nation-best 11-match winning streak. USC is on a six-match winning streak, including five victories against nationally ranked teams. This match will also feature two of the top freshmen in the nation. USC setter Micah Christenson is fifth in the nation with an 11.08 assists per game average. In addition, Penn State middle attacker Aaron Russell is in the nation's top 20 and leads the Nittany Lions with an 1.16 blocks per game average.

3. No. 7 Lewis (13-3, 3-1 MIVA) vs. No. 8 Long Beach State (9-8, 5-7 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Long Beach, Calif.
What to know: Long Beach State and Lewis will close out the Active Ankle Tournament in a rematch of one of the biggest non-conference upsets from last season. Lewis will travel to Long Beach State's home tournament for the second consecutive year. The Flyers last season defeated the 49ers in five games. Lewis enters this weekend on an eight-match winning streak. It also has defeated two MPSF teams this season -- Pepperdine and Hawai'i. Long Beach State has won four of its last six matches, including a five-set victory against UC Santa Barbara last week.


4. No. 5 BYU (13-4, 9-3 MPSF) vs. No. 11 Pacific (6-12, 4-9 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Provo, Utah
What to know: The campaign for BYU outside attacker Taylor Sander to win National Player of the Year continues as BYU opens a two-match home series against Pacific. Sander returned to the court following a month-long absence with a hand injury and had a team-high 34 combined kills in two victories against Pepperdine. Sander prior to his hand injury was leading the nation in kills per set average. Pacific defeated UC San Diego last week to snap a four-match MPSF losing streak. Pacific is also a half-match behind Cal State Northridge for the final spot in the MPSF Tournament.

5. No. 12 Cal State Northridge (7-10, 4-8 MPSF) vs. No. 15 Loyola (10-9, 3-3 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Northridge, Calif.
What to know: Loyola in the midst of a potential starting setter controversy will play Cal State Northridge to conclude its West Coast road trip. Coach Shane Davis midway through Loyola's five-game loss to Cal Baptist on Wednesday benched starter Matt Mirick and moved outside attacker Joseph Smalzer to setter. Smalzer had 27 assists to help Loyola rally from a two-set deficit before losing the decisive fifth game. This will be the second time this season that Loyola and Cal State Nothridge have played each other. The Matadors swept the Ramblers in the seventh-place consolation match at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational in January. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Men's Weekend Preview: March 2, 2012

Vinnie Lopes | Off the Block editor Vinnie Lopes is the editor of Off the Block, a website that focuses on Division I-II NCAA men’s volleyball, and has covered college men’s volleyball since 2007. For top five matches to follow every Friday and Saturday during the regular season, go to Off the Block at offtheblockblog.com.



It’s the midway mark of the regular season and several teams are looking to make statement victories this weekend. No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 UC Irvine will play each other in a match that could have ramifications at the end of the season when the selection committee determines the Final Four field. In addition, No. 6 Penn State after a perfect February looks to get a signature victory against its Big Ten brother No. 9 Ohio State. Check out the top five men’s volleyball matches to follow this weekend:

1. No. 2 Stanford (12-3, 9-2 MPSF) vs. No. 3 UC Irvine (12-3, 8-3 MPSF) Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif. 
What to know: Two weeks after Stanford swept UC Irvine in a match that Anteaters coach John Speraw described as his team getting their "butts kicked," both teams will meet again for a critical MPSF match. UC Irvine since that loss is on a three-match winning streak and has yet to lose a set. In addition, Anteaters outside attacker Kevin Tillie has at least 10 kills in each match during the winning streak, including a match-high 16 kills in a victory against Long Beach State last weekend. Stanford enters this match after losing a five-gamer to USC to snap a conference-best eight-match winning streak. The loss also resulted in the Cardinal dropping from No. 1 in the national rankings.

2. No. 6 Penn State (12-1, 6-0 EIVA) vs. No. 9 Ohio State (12-5, 3-1 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in University Park, Pa.
What to know: The nation's best offense will go up against the nation's best offensive player as Ohio State and Penn State renew their rivalry. Penn State leads the nation with a .376 attack percentage, while Ohio State outside attacker Shawn Sangery leads the nation with a 4.78 kills per game average. Sangery also has a nation-high 617 attack attempts and has at least 15 kills in eight of the Buckeyes last 10 matches. The Nittany Lions are on a 10-match winning streak and did not lose a single set during the entire month of February. This will be the second time this season that Penn State and Ohio State have played each other. The Nittany Lions swept the Buckeyes in January in Columbus, Ohio.

3. No. 5 BYU (11-4, 7-3 MPSF) vs. No. 10 Pepperdine (8-6, 6-5 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Provo, Utah
What to know: BYU will continue its season-long eight-match home stand with a two-match weekend series against Pepperdine, but the major question entering these matches is the status of the Cougars All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander. Sander missed last month with a hand injury and reports came out last weekend that the sophomore could play against Pepperdine. BYU since Sander's injury is 3-3 in MPSF play, including an upset loss to UC Santa Barbara on Saturday to drop to fourth place in the conference. Pepperdine since opening the conference 5-1 has lost four of its last five MPSF matches. However, Pepperdine defeated Pacific on Saturday for its second road victory.

4. No. 1 UCLA (16-2, 10-1 MPSF) vs. No. 14 Cal State Northridge (6-9, 4-7 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday at Northridge, Calif.
What to know: If Cal State Northridge is going to upset UCLA, its best chance will be tonight at home. The Matadors have one of the nation's greatest home-to-road record disparities going 4-1 at home and 1-7 on the road. Cal State Northridge’s only home loss was against then-No. 4 Stanford. UCLA midway through the MPSF season is in first place and has a one-match lead on second-place Stanford. The Bruins also swept the Matadors in the first conference match against each other in January.

5. No 4 USC (9-4, 7-4MPSF) vs. No. 13 Hawai'I (6-9, 3-7 MPSF) Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles 
What to know: Two of the nation's top outside attackers will face each other as USC and Hawai'i open a two-match conference series. USC outside attacker Tony Ciarelli is third in the nation with a 4.17 kills per game average. Ciarelli is also the reigning AVCA National Player of the Week after having a season-high 28 kills in a five-game upset victory against then-No. 1 Stanford on Saturday. Hawai'i outside attacker Steven Hunt leads the MPSF and is second in the nation with a 4.18 kills per game average. The Warriors, though, are on a four-match losing streak and a half-match behind Long Beach State for the eighth place in the conference -- the final spot for a berth in the MPSF Tournament.

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