Perennial power Penn State ready to face top-ranked BYU in national semifinals
Loyola-Chicago set to take on defending champ UC Irvine
LOS ANGELES -- Both Penn State and Loyola-Chicago know they have a daunting task, trying to beat one of the top-ranked volleyball teams in the country, but neither squad is lacking in confidence that they can perform the task.
The 2013 National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship semifinals begin Thursday, with Loyola-Chicago facing No. 3 ranked UC Irvine, followed by Penn State playing No. 1 Brigham Young, at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
Penn State ended the year ranked No. 14 by the American Volleyball Coaches Association and head coach Mark Pavlik isn’t worried about how highly ranked the Cougars are.
“I’m sure we sit there and say they are No. 1 for a reason,” Pavlik said. “But you also go through your season wanting to be in this position. Let’s play the best and see how hard we can play at this high level and see what happens.”
BYU head coach Chris McGown certainly isn’t looking past the Nittany Lions.
“I don’t think we are overconfident at all,” McGown said. “It’s been like that all year. If I think we were feeling that way I would remind them of the Hawaii game, where they gave us everything they had and we were lucky to win.”
It’s not like Penn State doesn’t deserve to be in the tournament. The Nittany Lions swept Harvard to earn the No. 4 seed and also have the advantage of making the final four 25 consecutive years.
“It’s definitely an advantage in some ways, especially with the coaches knowing how to keep us calm,” Penn State's Tom Comfort said. “I’m a senior, but it’s a younger team, but I think the experience we do have will help us.”
That doesn’t mean Pavlik isn’t worried.
“I’ve had my share of nightmares regarding BYU recently,” Pavlik said.
Loyola-Chicago could have a better chance against UC Irvine, the defending champion. The teams play similar styles and are No. 1 and 2 in kill average, with the Ramblers first at 12.95 per game and Anteaters second at 12.88.
“For us it’s all about consistency at this point,” Loyola-Chicago head coach Shane Davis said. “We’re a young group, we just need to become consistent. We don’t need to play our best on every play, we just need to play at a high level throughout to get past Irvine.”
The Anteaters earned the at-large bid and have the pressure of trying to be the first team to repeat since UCLA did it in 1996.
“There’s no pressure, we don’t feel as if we are defending anything,” UC Irvine senior Chris Austin said. “We’re coming here as an at-large. We’re just going to come in and focus on our game. We think that at the end of the day our victory or loss is going to be determined by us and not anyone else.”
“We need to do what we’ve been doing all year,” UC Irvine head coach David Kniffin said. “This team has been on an identity search. It’s always a challenge in post-championship years to find your own voice as a team. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot.”
Kniffin has been also searching for his own voice as the new head coach. He was an assistant for last year’s team and took over after John Speraw resigned to go to UCLA.
“Had I not been here as an assistant coach, I don’t know if it would have been possible to step in,” Kniffin said. “My familiarity with the terrain made it interesting.”