Provo • Like most BYU volleyball players, Ben Patch's life is a whirlwind right now.
Not only is the MPSF Freshman of the Year preparing to play in Thursday's conference tournament semifinal match against UCLA (8 p.m., BYUtv), he is trying to navigate final exams.
The tests "are kicking my butt right now, and I still have two more to take," the Provo High product said Tuesday. "They are hampering all of us a little bit, but we will be ready to go, and have clear heads, by match time."
Patch also has his immediate future on his mind, and it doesn't include a return to the BYU men's volleyball team next year, or the year after that.
Patch plans to submit his paperwork for a two-year LDS Church mission as soon as the season ends, and hopes to leave at the end of the summer when he is finished training with the U.S. Junior National Team.
Despite having a phenomenal first season with the Cougars, the 6-foot-8 Patch said it was not a difficult decision. Now if he can only get sent to his dream destination: Barcelona, Spain.
"I kind of made the decision a long time ago that I wanted to go," he said. "It has always been an important factor to me, and I personally feel that a national championship is great, but there are also rewards that come from serving a mission."
Not that a national title is out of the question this year.
The Cougars (21-3 MPSF, 23-4 overall) have held the No. 1 national ranking for 11 of the 15 regular-season weeks, including the final seven weeks.
But they did not play especially well in Saturday's five-set win over Hawaii, and Patch and coach Chris McGown said they will have to play much better Thursday to beat UCLA, which has won 10 of its last 11 matches, including a 3-0 win over Pepperdine on Saturday when BYU was struggling at home against the Warriors.
UCLA (16-8, 21-10) ended BYU's 12-match win streak with a 3-0 sweep at Pauley Pavilion on April 6, avenging a 3-0 loss on Feb. 9 to the Cougars in Provo.
"We really want to win this game," Patch said. "We want to get UCLA. They swept us last time, and we have a debt we owe them. So this is a big one for us, because if we win we will knock them out of the [NCAA] Tournament and end their season."
Most experts believe top-ranked BYU has already clinched at least an at-large berth in the NCAA men's volleyball Final Four, which will be played May 2 and 4 on UCLA's home court. The Bruins, who placed fourth in the MPSF regular-season race, probably have to win the conference tournament to get there.
"Everybody needs to be who they are," McGown said. "And if we do that, I think we will be in good shape. We have a nice game plan figured out, and UCLA is going to have a nice game plan figured out. We know who they are, and they know who we are. It will come down to executing the little things and maintaining our poise and composure."
MPSF Men's Volleyball Tournament
P At Smith Fieldhouse (Provo)
• No. 3 Long Beach State vs. No. 2 UC Irvine, 5 p.m.
• No. 1 BYU vs. No. 4 UCLA, 8 p.m.