Thursday, January 30, 2014

Vinnie's Top-5: Previews and Predictions

by Vinnie Lopes, editor of Off the Block that focuses on men's volleyball news and analysis.  He will be blogging for us all season previewing and predicting the top matches each week. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11 and @vinnielopes.
Several top-15 nationally ranked teams will play each other this weekend highlighted with No. 3 Pepperdine playing host to No. 4 BYU. In addition, No. 1 Loyola will begin conference play with a home match against No. 15 Ohio State.

Check out what to know and the predictions top college men's volleyball matches to follow this weekend

Player: Greg Petty (left), Lewis outside attacker -- Petty had 14 kills and a career-high .706 attack percentage in a victory against Sacred Heart last week. Petty was also named the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week on Tuesday.

Coach: Pete Hansn, Ohio State -- Ohio State swept Lindenwood on Saturday for Hanson's 250th career MIVA victory. Hanson is in his 30th season as the Buckeyes' head coach.

Stat: Loyola and UCLA finished tied for No. 1 in the latest AVCA national coaches poll released Monday.  However, only once in the last 10 years has two teams tied for No. 1 in the coaches poll remained tied for the top spot the following week.

No. 3 Pepperdine (4-1, 4-1 MPSF) vs. No. 4 BYU (6-2, 6-0 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Provo, Utah
What to know: One of the top offensive teams in the nation will go up against one of the top defensive teams in the nation as Pepperdine plays host to BYU in a battle between two top-five nationally ranked teams. BYU begins its weekend road trip on a six-match winning streak and one of five teams in the MPSF averaging better than a .300 attack percentage for the season. In addition, AVCA All-American BYU outside attacker Taylor Sander (right) is second in the nation with 19 aces and is in the MPSF's top five averaging 4.55 kills per game. The Waves lead the nation with a 3.52 blocks per game average. Five Pepperdine players are among the top 15 MPSF leaders for blocks per game average, including middle attacker Nikola Antonijevic who leads the conference with a 1.60 blocks per game average. Pepperdine also set a school single-match record with 71 digs in a five-game loss to Long Beach State last week -- the Waves' first loss of the season.

Pepperdine def. BYU in five games

No. 6 Long Beach State (4-3, 3-3 MPSF) vs. No. 7 Stanford (4-3, 1-3 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Palo Alto, Calif.
What to know: Stanford and Long Beach State aren't in panic mode yet, but both teams need a big early-season conference victory to get back into the MPSF title race. Each team enters this weekend already having three conference losses. Stanford snapped its three-match conference losing streak with a victory against Cal Baptist on Saturday. In addition,  the Cardinal is leading the MPSF with a .336 attack percentage, and setter James Shaw (below) is among the conference leaders averaging 10.96 assists per game. Long Beach State in its last conference match upset then-No. 1 Pepperdine to improve to .500 conference play. Outside attacker Taylor Crabb leads the 49ers and is second in the MPSF with a 4.63 kills per game average. This will also be the first meeting between Long Beach State and Stanford since the 49ers beat the Cardinal in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals last season.

Prediction: Stanford def. Long Beach State in five games

No. 1 Loyola (6-1, 0-0 MIVA) vs. No. 15 Ohio State (4-3, 2-0 MIVA)
Match vitals: 4 p.m. Saturday in Chicago
What to know: Loyola is No. 1 in the national rankings, but is currently looking up to Ohio State in the MIVA standings. The Ramblers after moving atop the AVCA national coaches poll on Monday for the first time their program history will open their conference season against the Buckeyes. Loyola is on a four-match winning streak, including road victories against Harvard and Sacred Heart last week. The team also became the first MIVA team to be ranked No. 1 in a regular season national coaches poll since Lewis in 1999. The Buckeyes are in first place in the MIVA following two victories last weekend to open its conference season. Ohio State swept both Quincy and Lindenwood on the road to extend its winning streak to four matches and improve above .500 for the first time this season.

Prediction: Loyola def. Ohio State in four games

No. 14 IPFW (3-1, 0-0 MIVA) vs. Ball State (3-2, 0-0 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m Friday in Fort Wayne, Ind.
What to know: One of the best in-state rivalries in college men's volleyball will be renewed when Ball State makes the one-hour trip north to play IPFW. The men's volleyball rivalry has become so big in Fort Wayne that even the city's newspaper The News-Sentinel ranked it among the top 10 sporting events in Indiana. This match will be both team's conference opener and the first time the teams have played each other since the Cardinals swept the Mastodons in the MIVA Tournament quarterfinals last season. IPFW setter Omar Rivera is leading the MIVA with a 11.43 assists per game average. In addition, the Mastodons have a conference-best .364 attack percentage through the first three weeks of the season. Ball State enters conference play after it snapped a two-match losing streak with a non-conference victory against McKendree last week.

Prediction: IPFW def. Ball State in five games

No. 1 UCLA (7-1, 4-0 MPSF) vs. No. 8 UC Irvine (5-5, 2-4 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Irvine, Calif.
What to know: For the second time in less than a week, UCLA and UC Irvine will meet each other in a conference match. AVCA All-American outside attacker Gonzalo Quiroga had a team-high 14 kills in the initial match to help the Bruins sweep the Anteaters on Monday. UCLA in the victory out-hit UC Irvine .420 to .365 and had three players finish with double-digit kills. The win also extended the Bruins' winning streak to a nation-best seven matches. UC Irvine with its loss to UCLA is now two matches below .500 in conference play and in ninth place in the MPSF. In addition, outside attacker Connor Hughes in the loss had a match-high 15 kills.

Prediction: UCLA def. UC Irvine in five games.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Playing Professionally + Living in China

by Diane Copenhagen/Athletes Abroad

Four months ago I boarded a plane headed for China without knowing what to expect. I found out the night before I was going abroad that Facebook didn’t work in China! How was I going to survive?? As I boarded the plane bound for new adventures, I had no idea what I was really getting myself into. Now looking back, I wish I had known a little more about China and how the overseas life works. So hopefully this will help all of you who are thinking about playing in China, are headed to play in China, or just interested in what it is like.

Tryout: China will have been my 6th season abroad. I would like to consider myself a seasoned veteran at this point, which is why I was shocked that I would have to go to China for a tryout. Of course the thoughts of, “what if they don’t think I am good enough” or “what happens if I don’t make the team” were going through my head when I first arrived, but I am a strong believer in everything happens for a reason so there was nothing to loose. Come to find out, tryouts are actually quite common in China. There are many players who come early for a tryout before signing the contract. So don’t worry if you have a tryout. Yes you still need to play your best, but just know it is normal for the Chinese league.

Visa: When applying for a visa for China, know that they are fairly strict. It took me 3-4 trips to receive mine from San Francisco. First, they don’t let you send it in my mail. So if you are not near a Chinese Consulate, you will either have to go to one, or use a service. You also need an invitation letter from the club with the dates that you will be staying in China for, the name, address, and phone number of the person inviting you, and a flight. I applied for an ‘M’ visa which I believe was a business visa. The visas take about 4 days to get. The biggest problem is just making sure that you have all the paperwork.

 Volleyball: In China, volleyball is a huge part of your life. Unlike in certain European countries where you enjoy the quaint details of the simple life, here if you aren’t in the gym you are sleeping or eating. The season starts, or at least did for me, the last weekend in November and lasts 2-4 months depending. It is 2 pools of 6 teams. You play each team home and away in a matter of 5 1/2 weeks. You have 2 matches per week with a lot of travel. After those 10 matches are finished (around January 5th), the top 4 teams combine with the top 4 teams of the other pool and form a pool of 8.

Within these 8 teams, you only play the 4 teams from the other pool, but not the 3 that you have already played. The second pool finishes February 15th. From then, the top 2 teams play in the finals and 3 &4 for the semi-final which finishes in March. For the 4 teams that did not make the second pool, they play 4 matches against the 2 teams they had not played yet and finish on January 23rd. I know its confusing, but bottom line is there is a lot of volleyball in a very short amount of time. As far as training goes, be prepared for double days and very few days off. I have been here almost 3 months and just had my first day off since the season started. The training here is pretty crazy. Its not the same mentality in the States, where you get fewer reps but good ones. Here it is quantity over quality. Practices were usually 2.5-3 hours. The girls are also usually very young, so a lot of the time the coach makes them do more than the “older” players.

Ball control is usually very good which allows for a quick offense. Mainly speed over power. It is a lot of work, and very physically and mentally taxing. The constant repetition with little recovery time both mentally and physically makes it a challenge. I am speaking for my club, because I know others a different. The good news is it is a short season, but there is a reason. You wouldn’t be able to put up the the grueling regiment for much longer. As far as clothing goes, the Chinese league is sponsored by 361, a Chinese clothing line. They give you more than enough as far as shoes, suitcase, coat, sweater vest and playing gear. The only downside is you have to wear all their gear, including the shoes. Its not bad, but coming from someone who enjoys playing in comfortable shoes, it was a nuisance at first.

Food: The occasional sweet and sour pork, orange chicken, and broccoli and beef, were always a tasty treat. But now imagine having that and rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not to mention its cafeteria styler served up on a lazy susan. The food here is a challenge. Unlike all the fresh fruits and vegetables that you can find in Europe and other place, China cooks, fries, and boils everything. Don’t worry they do have fresh fruit, but you just need to make sure you clean it really well. Being an athlete and knowing the foods and nutrients necessary to perform at our best, it was hard to find foods that would fit in to this category. You can only eat rice and eggs for so long.

I lived in a hotel, as did most of the girls over here, so there was no possibility for me to cook. Like I said we had a cafeteria that was ok for a while, but you got sick of the same food. The Chinese are very adventurous with their meats, so don’t be surprised to see chicken feet, pig’s feet, chicken liver, beef fat, and some tongue. The hardest part is that since everything is cooked and has some sauce on it, it is hard to really know what you are eating. For example I ate some chicken, to later find out it was rabbit. The food also tends to be on the spicy side, so be prepared.

Not all of the food is bad in China. They have so good soups, dumplings, and buns. They like their pork, so when in doubt assume thats what you are eating. Don’t get too excited for pancakes or croissants for breakfast, they have fried and hard boiled eggs, bread, noodles, rice porridge, and usually some rice. But there is usually some type of bakery that will have break and other goodies if need be. Just be prepared and bring your own food when you go to China. I was lucky to go home after I had already been in China 2 weeks and brought a whole suitcase of food. They do have Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Mc Donalds, Burger King, Subway, and KFC , so you won’t starve. But unlike the food in France and Italy, China doesn’t even come close to comparing.

 Travel: China is an extremely large country and the teams are spread out, so travel is fairly frequent. Most of the time you fly, but occasionally you will take a train or bus. The hotels are usually not much. The hardest part with the travel has been the internet. We are spoiled in the U.S. with wifi in most places, but in China it is few and far between. A lot of the hotels will have ethernet cables, so bring a router when you travel. Wifi is sometimes offered in the lobbies, but don’t count on it. Also beware of the smog. I was fortunate to be in the southern part of China where the smog isn’t as bad, but if you go into the big cities such as Shanghai or Beijing I would consider getting a mask. May not look fashionable but its the cool thing to do in China. It also gets rather cold in China and will even snow in the northern parts. Be prepared for some chilly weather, but the clubs will provide necessary clothing. Also they don’t believe in heating the gyms, so be ready to practice in some very cold weather.

Etiquette: My mom always said that she should have sent me to finishing school, but after 4 months in China, I like to think that I have very good manners. Compared to most places, the Chinese have a very different idea of etiquette. One where burping, farting, spitting, is acceptable at any time and any place. Don’t be shocked to see someone cough or sneeze without covering their mouths. Get used to the sound of hock-a-loogies because the happen everywhere and often. Smoking is accepted, even in elevators that have signs not to. People dropping their trousers and relieving themselves doesn’t just happen in the bathrooms or behind closed doors. Be ready to practice your aim because most toliets are holes that you squat over, which I refer to as “squatty potties”. When eating, it is not uncommon to spit the bones on the plates or tables. People tend to stare. Mainly because we are tall and stick out, but here they don’t try and hide it. They do have their cultural differences and when it comes to manners they are very different from what I am used to.

Life: Life in China is a challenge. It is very “doable” but it is a challenge. Make sure you get a VPN. That will allow you to redirect your IP address so the internet thinks you are somewhere else other than China. That will allow you to access Facebook, Twitter, and other sites that will keep you from going crazy. Be careful of mopeds. They are everywhere and do whatever they want. They will honk at you and almost hit you and not even blink. Not many people speak English so it is very hard to communicate. I have a translator, but she is not with me 24/7, so make sure your charades skills are up to par and don’t be surprised when they speak back to you in Chinese like you understand. Take business cards from all the hotels, restaurants, and places you like and want to visit or of where you are staying. Its the easiest way to get around. Just show the taxi driver the card and your chances are good.

China is not like the U.S. in many ways, but I have come to appreciate it for what it is. Yes there were things that drove me up the wall, but like with every culture there are things you simply don’t understand. So hopefully this helps shed some light on what to expect if you ever get the opportunity to play in China.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Vinnie's Top-5: Previews and Predictions

by Vinnie Lopes, editor of Off the Block that focuses on men's volleyball news and analysis.  He will be blogging for us all season previewing and predicting the top matches each week. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11 and @vinnielopes.

Highlighting this weekend's matches includes No. 1 Pepperdine trying to remain undefeated as it travels to play No. 5 Long Beach State. In addition, No. 7 BYU and No. 6 Stanford will play each other big early-season conference match.

Check out the top five college men's volleyball matches to follow this weekend and what to know about these matches.


Daily Bruin
Player: Robert Page (left), UCLA outside attacker -- Page had a match-high 15 kills as UCLA swept UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday in conference play. The senior has led Bruins in kills for every match during their nation-best six match winning streak.

Coach: Kris Dorn, Lindenwood -- Dorn earned his first victory as a NCAA Division I-II men's volleyball head coach as Lindenwood defeated NJIT in four games during the weekend. This is Dorn's the first season at Lindenwood and arrived to school after coaching at Clarke University.

Stat: Four teams -- BYU, Long Beach State, Stanford and now Pepperdine -- have held the No. 1 ranking in the first four AVCA national coaches poll to open the season. That early season feat had never been accomplished since the AVCA coaches poll started in 1986.


1. No. 1 Pepperdine (4-0, 4-0 MPSF) vs. No. 5 Long Beach State (3-3, 2-3 MPSF)
Pepperdine Athletics
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Long Beach, Calif.
What to know: Pepperdine after earning the No. 1 ranking in the AVCA coaches poll for the first
time in four years will now try to get an early-season road conference victory against Long Beach State. The Waves through the first three weeks of the season have two players among the MPSF leaders in kills. Outside attacker Josh Taylor entered this week leading the nation with a 5.00 kills per game average, while opposite Parker Kalmbach (right) is in the MPSF's top 15 with a 3.73 kills per game average and was named the AVCA/Sports Imports National Player of the Week on Tuesday. In addition, Pepperdine is the only remaining undefeated team in the nation among college men's volleyball teams who have started their seasons. Long Beach State continues its homestand after a three-game loss to USC on Wednesday. The 49ers in the loss were held to a season-low .188 attack percentage.

Prediction: Pepperdine def. Long Beach State in five games

No. 7 BYU (4-2, 4-0 MPSF) vs. No. 6 Stanford (3-2, 0-2 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Provo, Utah
What to know: BYU has one of the best home-court advantages in the nation, but it's had little affect on Stanford in recent years. The Cardinal entering its road match against the Cougars are 4-3 at Smith Fieldhouse since 2008. Stanford, though, is on a two-match losing streak after losing to both UCLA and UC Santa Barbara in five games during the weekend. BYU is on a four-match winning streak, including a five-game road victory against UC Irvine last week. In addition, All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander had a career-high nine aces in a sweep against UC San Diego on Saturday. Sander also started this week as the only player in the nation with more than 100 kills throughout the first three weeks of the season.

Prediction: BYU def. Stanford in five games

USC Athletics
No. 4 USC (4-1, 3-1 MPSF) vs. Cal State Northridge (1-3, 1-2 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Northridge, Calif.
What to know: It's still early in the season, but USC outside attacker Lucas Yoder (right) continues to make his case for the AVCA Newcomer of the Year.  Yoder has led the Trojans in kills in every match so far this season and is in the conference's top five with a  4.12 kills per game average. In addition, Yoder has won two of the first three Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. National Freshman of the Week as the Trojans have won four of their last five matches. Cal State Northridge will play USC after almost upsetting Pepperdine on Wednesday. Freshman outside attacker Damani Lenore in the five-game loss to the Waves had a career-high 28 kills.

Prediction: USC def. Cal State Northridge in four games

Loyola-Chicago Athletics
No. 2 Loyola (4-1, 0-0 MIVA) vs. Harvard (0-1, 0-0 EIVA)
Match vitals: 3 p.m. Saturday in Cambridge, Mass.
What to know: Two teams with some of the best non-conference starts to the season will now meet each other in a non-conference match. Loyola concluded its season-opening homestand at 4-1, including upsetting then-No. 1 UC Irvine and then-No. 3 BYU. In addition, Loyola set a school single-match record with a .679 attack percentage in a sweep against Mount Olive on Saturday. Middle attacker Nick Olson (left) was also named the MIVA Defensive Player of the Week after having a combined 13 blocks in the team's non-conference victories against Erskine and Mount Olive during the weekend. Harvard opened its season reaching the championship match of the UC Santa Barbara Invitational before losing to Long Beach State in four games. All-EIVA Outside attacker DJ White in that championship loss finished with a team-high 14 kills.

Prediction: Loyola def. Harvard in four games

Mount Olive (1-2, 1-0 CC) vs. Limestone (4-1, 2-0 CC)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Mount Olive, N.C.
What to know: The two front-runners for the Conference Carolinas' inaugural automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will meet in an early-season conference match. Mount Olive returns a majority of starters from last year's team that won the Conference Carolinas regular season championship. The team was also picked to win the conference in the Conference Carolinas preseason coaches poll. The Trojans, though, opened their season with losses to Loyola and Lewis during a Midwest road trip last week. Limestone remained undefeated in conference play, including a sweep against Pfeiffer on Tuesday. In addition, middle attacker Joel Muhlbach was an honorable mention selection for the Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. National Freshman of the Week after having a match-high 10 blocks in a non-conference victory against Coker last week.

Prediction: Mount Olive def. Limestone in five games. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Volleyball for Rwanda

Vince Ruhumuliza/Athletes Abroad


Vince Ruhumuliza reached out to Athletes Abroad on Twitter just a day after our launch and told us about how he has been trying to help improve the quality of volleyball in Rwanda. We could instantly tell he is very passionate about what he is doing; a humble guy with good intentions. Being an athlete himself, we could relate and were inspired to help and take action. We believe it’s both important and rewarding for athletes to go beyond the sport itself. To give back and see athletes helping athletes is something we are striving to do and encourage others to do as well. We are so excited to work with Vince and display his cause! Read his story and learn more about how you can help reach his goal for Rwanda.

We even learned via his Volleyball 4 Rwanda account that Volleywood did a write up about him and his project. 

Describe who you are and a little about your beach volleyball career

My name is Vincent Ruhumuliza, I am a lower level beach volleyball professional. I have been playing beach volleyball since I was 13, growing up in Michigan along Lake Michigan. It has been a passion of mine since my first tournament.

I have played in a lot of volleyball tournaments all over Florida, from the big sponsored tournaments in Fort Lauderdale and Clearwater, to the small off season tournaments run by my friends on St. Pete Beach. This sport of beach volleyball is truly a lifestyle, I would say would be the most similar to the surfing lifestyle, and I absolutely live for it and love it. 

What is Volleyball for Rwanda?

Volleyball for Rwanda is my project I have decided to tackle here in the country of Rwanda. My overall goal is to build an Olympic level volleyball venue, both indoor and my favorite, beach volleyball; it will also be connected to a wellness center for sports rehab and other health related things.

My idea is to make Rwanda known on an international scale for something other than the horrific 1994 Genocide. Rwandans are very proud and incredibly athletic, so the sport of volleyball is a perfect fit for this country. 

Why Rwanda?

My grandparents
I am half Rwandan, kind of the definition of African American actually. My dad grew up in a small village or town called Gitwe, where he persevered in studies to pursue health studies. My mom, small town Michigan girl, actually visited Rwanda for a missionary trip thirty plus years ago as a nurse, and on that trip she met my dad, and a few months later they were married, in Rwanda with a marriage certificate in French.

So that brings me the present, my parents have been here in Rwanda for a little over two years now, working with health organizations. My mom is working with the Clinton Foundations globalized health care, and my dad, native to Rwanda, is the Advisor to the Director of Nursing for two major hospitals in Kigali, the capitol of Rwanda.

Having both my parents here in Africa gave me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone in Florida and try something new, and it also gives me the chance to travel to new places and get that amazing rush of travel and going some places I might never ever get a chance to see again later in life. Also, it gives me a chance to connect with family members that would maybe never get a chance to travel to the US, like my cousins and more importantly my dad’s parents, my grandparents.
Where does beach volleyball in Rwanda stand now?

The "beach" volleyball court
Beach volleyball in Rwanda is pretty much nonexistent, and that truly hurts to say out loud. There is an interesting lack of understanding of the sport of beach volleyball. The first time I went in to a meeting to talk about building a beach volleyball court, I was looked at like I had something on my face. This boggled my mind because Rwanda has a pretty organized and talented indoor national volleyball team. It is a common thought here that if you don’t have an actual beach, with water and sand, that you can’t have a beach volleyball court. I am here to change that, I am working on importing truck loads of sand and developing a court in the capitol to have an example of the standard of a beach volleyball court, as well as an example to show the Ministry of Sports, so I can move on and hope for help with funding.
What is your vision?

My vision for Volleyball for Rwanda is to help bring this sport to the forefront of recognition when it comes to sports in this region and continent of Africa. I will teach the youth the proper rules and way to play volleyball and show that it can be a tool to travel and get out of the country of Rwanda as an athlete. The day I see Rwanda in the Olympics for volleyball and know that I had a hand in producing that success, I will be on cloud nine.

How can we and others help?

In all seriousness any and all help is welcome, I would love to receive nets, volleyballs, any donations, and for the word to spread what is happening in this part of the world focusing on volleyball.

If any university or group would like to travel and help with the building of the facility and/or youth clinics, I would be more than happy to organize and make that happen. I have already contacted a couple small universities that have programs for work mission trips about getting a group of young adults to come and visit and experience Rwanda and help out with my project, as soon as winter 2014.

Any kind of fund raising events or volleyball tournaments in the States would be amazing as well, which is hard to organized being half a world away, but I would be willing to help in any way that I could.

Really, all I want in the end is for people to acknowledge that there are athletes doing amazing things all over the world, and it should be recognized.

Follow me on Twitter at @VBforRwanda
Find me on Facebook Volleyball for Rwanda
Email me at
Read my blog coming soon!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Vinnie's Top-5: Previews and Predictions

by Vinnie Lopes, editor of Off the Block that focuses on men's volleyball news and analysis.  He will be blogging for us all season previewing and predicting the top matches each week. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11 and @vinnielopes.

It's all about the rematch in college men's volleyball.

Among the top matches this weekend includes No. 1 Stanford playing No. 6 UCLA just weeks after meeting at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational. In addition, No. 8 BYU and No. 7 UC Irvine will play each other for the first time since their meeting in the 2013 NCAA finals.

Check out the top five college men's volleyball matches to follow this weekend and the predictions on who wins each match. 

This week's guest picker is CJ Allard. Allard is the play-by-play announcer on WCRD for Ball State men's volleyball matches and was a 2013 finalist for the AVCA Grant Burger Media Award.

Daily Bruin
No. 1 Stanford (3-0, 0-0 MPSF) vs. No. 6 UCLA (3-1, 0-0 MPSF)
Match vitals; 3 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles.
What to know: Two weeks after playing their season opener against each other at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational, Stanford and UCLA will now meet again, but this time in their conference opener. Stanford in that non-conference tournament match had a season-high .500 attack percentage to defeat UCLA in four games. However, both teams enter the MPSF season after a successful weekend in non-conference play last weekend. Stanford had a season-high 14 aces in a four-game victory against then-No. 8 Lewis on Saturday. The Cardinal also climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the latest AVCA coaches poll -- the team's first time atop the national poll in almost two years. UCLA went undefeated at the Outrigger Invitational last weekend to win the non-conference tournament for the fourth consecutive season. In addition, outside attacker Robart Page had a tournament-best 51 combined kills in the Bruins' three matches to be named the Outrigger Invitational Most Outstanding Player and the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week. 

Vinnie Lopes, Off the Block: Stanford def. UCLA in five games
CJ Allard, WCRD: UCLA has only lost one match this young 2013-2014 season – at the hands of the stout Stanford Cardinal squad.  Getting an early rematch, this time in LA, should benefit the Bruins.  UCLA 3, Stanford 2

No. 7 UC Irvine (2-3, 0-2 MPSF) vs. No. 8 BYU (2-2, 2-0 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Irvine, Calif.
What to know: If the BYU players needed any more motivation for its rematch of 2013 NCAA finals against UC Irvine, they will only need to look up to the Bren Center rafters. The UC Irvine athletics department announced earlier this week that it will unveil the school's 2013 NCAA championship banner on Thursday -- less than 24 hours before its home match against BYU. UC Irvine enters on a two-match losing streak, including a five-game loss to USC on Tuesday. BYU, following a 0-2 start to the season, won its two conference home matches last weekend, including a four-game victory against then-No. 1 Long Beach State. In addition, AVCA All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander had a match-high 24 kills in the victory against the 49ers.
VL: BYU def. UC Irvine in four games
CJA: Irvine finally gets to play at home for the first time all season, but Taylor Sander and the BYU Cougars (2-2) are undefeated this year against west-coast teams.  BYU steals the road victory and puts UC Irvine below .500 with a 3-1 victory.

No. 10 Hawai'i (2-1, 0-0 MPSF) vs. No. 4 Long Beach State (2-1, 1-0 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday in Honolulu
What to know: No one more than Hawai'i wants to wreck the homecoming of Long Beach State outside attacker Taylor Crabb than Hawai'i. The senior outside attacker and 2013 AVCA National Player of the Year will return to his home state as the 49ers and Rainbow Warriors open a two-match conference series Thursday. Crabb -- who won two high school state championships and was inducted into the Hawai'i High School Athletic Association Foundation Hall of Honor -- had a team-high 22 kills in Long Beach State's four-game loss to BYU on Saturday. In addition, the last time Crabb returned home to play Hawai'i was as a sophomore in 2012 and he had 20 kills in the match. Hawai'i enters this series after finishing in second place at the Outrigger Invitational during the weekend. Outside attacker Sinisa Zarkovic led the Rainbow Warriors in kills for two-of-three matches at their home tournament and was named to the All-Tournament Team.

VL: Hawai'i def. Long Beach State in five games
CJA: These two teams have met 74 times with each team winning 37 matches against one another.  Although LBSU has won the last four matches, Hawai’i has a huge advantage playing at home and thus, should squeak out a 3-2 win.

Penn State Athletics
No. 12 Penn State (1-2, 0-0 EIVA) vs. No. 14 IPFW (2-0, 0-0 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in University Park, Pa.
What to know: For a team that has not won on the road at Penn State in almost 15 years, IPFW has plenty of reasons to feel confident heading into its non-conference match against the Nittany Lions. The Mastodons have their highest ranking in the AVCA coaches poll in five years after defeating then-No. 15 Cal Baptist and Sacred Heart to open their season. In addition, all-conference outside attacker Eddie Rivera had a match-high 13 kills in the victory against Sacred Heart on Friday and was named the MIVA Offensive Player of the Week.  Penn State swept Ohio State in its final match at the Outrigger Invitational to finish the tournament 1-2. Outside attacker Nick Goodell in the victory had a match-high 13 kills and was selected to the All-Tournament Team. This will also be the first meeting between IPFW and Penn State since the Mastodons upset the Nittany Lions in five games last season in Fort Wayne, Ind. 

VL: Penn State def. IPFW in five games
CJA: IPFW is much improved this year and the return of so many key players from last season has proven helpful already in 2014, but playing at Penn State won’t be easy.  PSU sweeps IPFW 3-0.

No. 2 Loyola-Chicago (2-1, 0-0 MIVA) vs. Mount Olive (0-0, 0-0 Conference Carolinas)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Chicago
What to know: In what could be a preview of a NCAA Tournament match later this season, Mount Olive will travel to the Midwest to play the defending MIVA champions Loyola. The Ramblers resume their season-opening homestand following a bye week. Loyola to open its season upset BYU and UC Irvine and jumped to No. 2 in the latest coaches poll -- its highest coaches poll ranking in school history. Mount Olive was picked as the favorite to win the Conference Carolinas in the conference's preseason coaches poll that was released earlier this week. The Trojans also return a majority of starters from last year's team that won the Conference Carolinas regular season championship but was upset in the conference tournament semifinals.

VL: Loyola def. Mount Olive in three games
CJA: The Trojans may have been picked to finish 1st in the Conference Carolinas, but playing on the road at Loyola will prove that the top of the MIVA > the top of CC. Ramblers easily defeat Mount Olive, 3-0.

Guest picker's match to watch: George Mason (0-0, 0-0 EIVA) vs Ohio State (0-3, 0-0 MIVA)
VL: Ohio State def. George Mason in four games
CJA: After an incredibly tough start to the year going 0-3 at the Outrigger Invitational in Honolulu, the Buckeyes finally get to play at home, but don’t expect George Mason to feel bad about Ohio State’s winless start.  The Patriots’ first match of the season will be a road upset victory.  George Mason 3, Ohio State 1.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Vinnie's Top-5: Previews and Predictions

by Vinnie Lopes, editor of Off the Block that focuses on men's volleyball news and analysis.  He will be blogging for us all season previewing and predicting the top matches each week. For continued updates and analysis of the men's game, visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @offtheblock11 and @vinnielopes.

This is only the second week of the college men's volleyball season, but it almost has a postseason feel with all the marquee matches coming up this week.

Highlighting the non-conference slate of matches includes No. 7 UCLA playing No. 11 Penn State to open the Outrigger Invitational, while No. 8 Lewis travels to play No. 4 Stanford. In addition, No. 1 Long Beach State and No. 9 BYU will face each other in a rematch of last year's MPSF Tournament championship match.

Check out the what to know and the top five college men's volleyball matches from around the nation to follow this week.

Yoder/USC Athletics
Player: Lucas Yoder, USC outside attacker
Yoder picked up three national awards this week --  Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week, Off the Block/Springbak, Inc. National Freshman of the Week and MPSF Player of the Week -- after having a match-high 16 kills in his college debut to help USC beat then-No. 7 Loyola on Saturday. USC will open its conference season against UC San Diego on Friday.

Coach: David Hunt, Pepperdine assistant coach
Pepperdine announced earlier this week that David Hunt would return to the Waves' sidelines for the upcoming season. Hunt left Pepperdine in the summer on a brief hiatus to serve as an assistant coach to the Japanese Men's National Team

Stat: Midwest beating the West Coast
Teams from the MIVA were a combined 4-3 against the powerhouse MPSF to open the college men's volleyball season last week. The MIVA and MPSF will play six non-conference matches against each other this week.

                                                                   THE GAMES

Stanford Athletics
1. No. 4 Stanford (1-0, 0-0 MPSF) vs. No. 8 Lewis (1-1, 0-0 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Palo Alto, Calif.
What to know: It's early in the college men's volleyball season, but Stanford and Lewis will play each other in a non-conference match that could have significant NCAA Tournament implications later in the season. Both Stanford and Lewis have aspirations of reaching the newly expanded six-team NCAA Tournament and have already picked up signature non-conference victories so far this season. Stanford in its season opener defeated then-No. 2 UCLA in four games at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational on Saturday. The Cardinal in the victory finished with a .500 attack percentage and had four players with double-digit kills -- including Preseason All-American outside attacker Brian Cook (inset) who had a match-high 16 kills. Lewis after opening its season with a home loss to then-No. 1 UC Irvine proceeded to upset then-No. 3 BYU in a home non-conference match Saturday. Outside attacker Greg Petty in the two non-conference matches led Lewis with a combined 29 kills.

My pick: Stanford def. Lewis in five games

2. No. 1 Long Beach State (1-0, 0-0 MPSF vs. No. 9 BYU (0-2, 0-0 MPSF)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Saturday in Provo, Utah
What to know: For the first time since meeting in the 2013 MPSF Tournament championship match, Long Beach State and BYU will face each other. Both teams enter this conference championship rematch having near polar opposite starts to the season. Long Beach State went undefeated at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational last weekend, including a four-game victory against Harvard in the championship match to capture the school's first title at the non-conference tournament since 2006. In addition, the 49ers earned their first No. 1 ranking in the AVCA national coaches poll in more than 20 years. The defending MPSF champions BYU opened its season losing both of its matches to Loyola and Lewis during its Midwest road trip. This is the second time in a decade that the Cougars have opened a season 0-2.

LBSU's Dalton Ammerman/LBSU Athletics

My pick:  Long Beach State def. BYU in five games

3. No. 7 UCLA (1-0, 0-0 MPSF) vs. No. 11 Penn State (0-0, 0-0)
Match vitals: 5 p.m. Thursday in Honolulu
What to know: There could not be a more fitting way for Penn State to open its 2014 season than by playing UCLA. In a season that marks the 20-year anniversary Penn State defeating UCLA in the 1994 NCAA finals to become the first non-West Coast team to win a national title, the two teams will meet to open the Outrigger Invitational. Penn State enters the non-conference tournament in Hawaii after ending last season winning its 15th consecutive EIVA title and reaching the NCAA Tournament semifinals. Outside attacker Aaron Russell, the 2013 co-EIVA Player of the Year, is among the majority of starters returning to the Nittany Lions from last year's team. UCLA has won the last three Outrigger Invitational championships and has a record eight titles in the non-conference tournament's 20-year history.

My pick:
Penn State def. UCLA in five games

4. UC Irvine (2-1, 0-0 MPSF) vs. Pepperdine (0-0, 0-0 MPSF)
Match vitals:  7 p.m. Friday in Malibu, Calif.
What to know: Two teams with some of the top middle attackers in the MPSF will go up against each other as UC Irvine travels to Pepperdine in its conference opener. Middle attackers Scott Kevorken and Collin Mehring in UC Irvine's season opening Midwest road trip last week both led the Anteaters in blocks. Mehring also had a match-high five blocks in a sweep against Ball State to help UC Irvine end the road trip 2-1. Pepperdine finished last season in the nation's top five in blocks per game average. In addition, middle attacker Parker Kalmbach was among the national leaders with a 1.23 blocks per game average. This will also be Pepperdine's season opener after going 2-2 in exhibition matches against Canadian schools during the last two weeks.

My pick: UC Irvine def. Pepperdine four games

5. Pacific (1-0, 0-0 MPSF) vs. Grand Canyon (0-0, 0-0 MIVA)
Match vitals: 7 p.m. Friday in Stockton, Calif.
What to know: Few teams had more positive momentum entering the off-season last year than the Antelopes. Grand Canyon will play Pacific in its season opener after ending last year winning its first postseason match and having its first winning record in program history. The team also returns a majority of starters who helped upset Ohio State in the MIVA Tournament. In addition, outside attacker Ben Ponnet was a Preseason All-MIVA selection as Grand Canyon was picked in the conference's preseason coaches poll to finish in the top four of the MIVA. Pacific is beginning its final season in program history after the school announced in October that it would drop men's volleyball to finance a new university strategic initiative. The Tigers opened their season last weekend with a victory against Cal State Northridge at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational.

My pick: Grand Canyon def. Pacific in five games