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As Stanford and its tiny band of supporters learned last Saturday, it is extremely difficult to go into the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse at BYU and beat the Cougars in a men's volleyball match in front of thousands of screaming fans.
It is almost impossible.
Beating the Cougars (24-3) on the road isn't easy, either, but that's the opportunity rivals in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) will get this weekend at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, Calif.
Thanks to a tiebreaker scenario, Long Beach State (25-3) got the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament and the right to host the semifinals and finals. BYU tied the 49ers for the regular-season crown after both clubs went 16-2 in league play. But in the head-to-head matches, LBSU won 3-0 and BYU won 3-2, so LBSU is the host by virtue of winning more sets.
The second-seeded Cougars, ranked No. 3 in the country by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), take on third-seeded Hawaii at 6 p.m. MDT on Thursday. LBSU and UC Irvine meet in the other semifinal, at approximately 8 p.m. MDT.
The winners will meet on Saturday for the tournament title and the league's automatic bid into the six-team NCAA Tournament. That tournament begins May 2 at Ohio State University in Columbus. BYU and Long Beach are most likely in the NCAAs, regardless of what happens Thursday and Saturday.
Long Beach State has a loyal following, but BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said Cougar fans will make their presence known as well.
"I will say, first and foremost, it is a shout-out to the Cougar fans all over the country," Olmstead said. "Players from every sport talk about that, and coaches. From what I see in other sports, the attendance is high from LDS fans in the area, and BYU fans in general. We can't thank those guys enough because we definitely know they are there."
The Cougars are 10-1 away from home this season, the only loss a 3-1 setback to Loyola-Chicago on Jan. 7. They swept Hawaii (25-4, 14-4 MPSF) on March 17 and 18 in Provo by identical 3-0 scores.
"The guys, in my two years with this team, they have always been really comfortable going on the road," Olmstead said. "Whether it is because half of the lineup is from out of state, I don't know."
In last week's 3-0 win over Stanford in front of nearly 3,000 at Smith Fieldhouse, the Cougars rolled without having to play two-time All-American Ben Patch, a junior who has said this is his final season in Provo.
Patch has nursed a groin injury that caused him to miss 11 matches in the middle of the season, but Olmstead said he was "available" to play against the Cardinal. He didn't get in, the coach said, because "we felt comfortable in the situations with Tim [Dobbert] out there, and Tim did a phenomenal, outstanding job."
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MPSF men's volleyball tournament
At Walter Pyramid, Long Beach, Calif.
Thursday's semifinal matches
No. 2 BYU vs. No. 3 Hawaii, 6 p.m. MDT
No. 1 Long Beach State vs. No. 4 UC Irvine, 8 p.m. MDT
Saturday's championship match
Semifinal winners, 8 p.m. MDT