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NCAA Men: Hawaii Upsets BYU Twice, MPSF Dogfight Continues

Wednesday April 9, 2014

Well, I didn't see this one coming. But last weekend was a huge one for Hawaii, who hosted BYU for two matches and managed to win both. The first was a five set match in which the Cougars won the first two sets but couldn't finish the job once Hawaii caught fire and took the next three.

The 'Bows won the second match in a quick three sets. Though the first set was a marathon that ended at 37-35, they seemed to break BYU's spirit after that and won the second two rather easily 25-20 and 25-19.  With these big wins, Hawaii launched itself into the final spot in the MPSF Conference tournament with one weekend of play remaining.

Hawaii is tin a three-way tie for the last spot with Long Beach and UCLA. USC is sitting in ninth place, just one match outside of the playoffs. Stanford has gone from out of the tournament to clinching a spot in the last three weeks. After an undefeated March, the Cardinal is now in third place in the MPSF. Despite the two losses, BYU is still in first place, two matches ahead of Pepperdine.

The last week of play will make or break the finalists. Hawaii has two tough matches left, both against No. 2 Pepperdine. UCLA has No. 3 BYU on the schedule this week and Long Beach has two matches against No. 15 Northridge, who finds itself back in the AVCA poll's top 15 after six weeks unranked. Northridge also had an incredible weekend, beating UCLA in five and Santa Barbara in four. Long Beach shouldn't underestimate these guys.

UCI and UCSB are tied for fourth in the MPSF, just one game in front of the last three qualifiers. UCI still has to face Stanford and Santa Barbara will be up against BYU in Provo so keep an eye on those key match ups.

Northridge is out of the running for the Conference tourney as they are four games out of the final spot. But they can finish strong by beating the 49ers this weekend. Here are the rest of this week's matches to watch:

Matches to Watch:

Thursday, April 10th
No. 15 CSUN @ No. 7 Long Beach

Friday, April 11th
No. 1 Loyola Chicago @ Ohio State 
No. 9 Hawaii @ No. 2 Pepperdine 
No. 3 BYU @ No. 5 UC Santa Barbara 
No. 4 Stanford @ No. 6 UCI

Saturday, April 12th
No. 9 Hawaii @ No. 2 Pepperdine 
No. 3 BYU @ No. 10 UCLA 
No. 7 Long Beach @ No. 15 CSUN

USA Beach Volleyball Qualifier Showcases New Teams

Wednesday April 2, 2014

It went on without much fanfare, but last weekend USAV held a qualifier for the fourth USA spot in the first FIVB Tour event of the season in Shanghai. There's been a bit of a shake up in partnerships as usual over the winter break and so some new teams now need to bolster their international points in order to be included among the automatic qualifiers.

The top three teams of both genders qualified on points. So on the women's side that means April Ross & Kerri Walsh Jennings, Lauren Fendrick & Brooke Sweat and Emily Day & Summer Ross qualified automatically. On the men's side it was Jake Gibb & Casey Patterson, Phil Dalhausser & Sean Rosenthal and Ryan Doherty & Nick Lucena who were automatic qualifiers.

That left the best of the rest to fight it out for the last spot. In the end, John Hyden & Tri Bourne took the spot on the men's side and Brittany Hochevar & Lane Carico will compete in Shanghai for the women. Hyden and Bourne were seeded fourth of the four teams competing, but beat No. 1 seed Todd Rogers & Theo Brunner and No. 2 Will Montgomery and Stafford Slick in two sets each. John Mayer and Brad Keenan were seeded third but lost in two sets to Montgomery and Slick.

On the women's side, No. 2 Hochevar & Carico defeated No. 3 Heather Hughes & Christal Engle and No. 1 Jennifer Fopma & Whitney Pavlik each in two sets. Sarah Day and Allison Daley were defeated in three sets by Fopma & Pavlik.

The Shanghai event officially opens the 2014 pro beach volleyball season on April 29th and runs through May 4th.

NCAA Men: Stanford Undefeated in March, Moves into Top 5

Tuesday April 1, 2014

The top three remained in place this week with Loyola Chicago, BYU and Pepperdine leading the way in the AVCA Poll for the second straight week. Of the three top teams only Pepperdine suffered a loss this week, but it didn't hurt them in the polling. The Waves dropped a match to Stanford on the road in three rather quick sets - 25-21, 25-18, 25-19. Stanford went undefeated in the month of March and beat Pepperdine in both meetings this year -- in early March the Cardinal won in four -- but the wins did not yield a higher ranking than the Waves. Stanford did rise two spots to No. 4 in this week's AVCA poll, it's the first time they've been in the top five since Week 2 in mid-January.

UC Santa Barbara held on to the No. 5 spot after taking No. 2 BYU to a deciding fifth set over the weekend. BYU started off strong with a win in the first set but lost the next two, putting them in the unfamiliar position of having to come from behind. But they did what they had to do, winning set four and coming out with a 15-13 victory in the fifth.

Long Beach lost to UCI in three sets as well which sent the 49ers down two more spots to No. 6 this week after reaching the No. 2 spot nationally just two weeks ago. With the win, UCI is up one spot to No. 7. For the Anteaters, Connor Hughes had a stellar match with just one error on 37 attempts for a .486 hitting percentage.

In the MPSF standings BYU still leads the way by three games over Pepperdine. There is a three-way tie for third place between UCSB, Long Beach and Stanford which all have 13-7 conference records. UCI and USC are in the sixth and seventh place spots respectively with UCLA filling the last playoff spot, just one game ahead of Hawaii. Two ranked teams remain on UCLA's schedule in the final two weeks of the season - Long Beach and BYU. Hawaii has four tough matches remaining - two against BYU and two against Pepperdine.

The rest of the AVCA rankings remained mostly unchanged outside the top 5 with the exception of Ball State which is now tied with Penn State at No. 12 after taking both No. 1 Loyola and No. 11 Lewis to five sets.

This week, Long Beach State will take on UCSB and UCLA to see if they can find their lost mojo. In the East, Penn State will take on Harvard. Here are the rest of your matches to watch for this week.

Matches to Watch:

Thursday, April 3rd
No. 5 UC Santa Barbara @ No. 6 Long Beach State 

Friday, April 4th
No. 2 BYU @ No. 10 Hawaii
No. 7 UCI @ UCSD 
No. 13 Penn State @ No. 15 Harvard 
No. 14 IPFW @ Ohio State

Saturday, April 5th
No. 2 BYU @ No. 10 Hawaii 
No. 8 USC @ No. 3 Pepperdine 
No. 5 UC Santa Barbara @ CSUN
No. 9 UCLA @ No. 6 Long Beach State

NCAA Sand Volleyball to Debut on Pac-12 Network

Wednesday March 26, 2014

More good news this week for NCAA sand volleyball. After the announcement earlier this month that the sport reached the 40 school threshold and will soon be an official NCAA Championship sport, the Pac-12 Network announced that it will actually give us an opportunity to view the action.

NCAA sand volleyball will debut on the Pac-12 Network this Thursday, March 27th with two matches - USC vs. Cal State Northridge and USC vs. Oregon. Three more matches will air on April 3rd and will include airtime for two more teams - UCLA and Loyola Marymount. Each of the five matches airing next week will take place at USC's Merle Norman Stadium.

The Pac-12 leads the NCAA in sand programs with eight of its 12 schools fielding teams this season, so it is fitting that the conference's network would be the first to step up. Here's hoping they will expand its coverage beyond LA next season.

Good Problems for AZ Boys Volleyball

Wednesday March 26, 2014

I'm going to file this one in the "good problems to have" category for boys volleyball. In Arizona, the sport is growing and expanding for boys annually. That's awesome news. Now with 67 schools offering boys volleyball in the state, the number of teams is beginning to become unwieldy for the state's single solitary division.

Twenty-four teams make the state playoffs each year, but there are stark differences in the levels of play from school to school. Some of the schools are tiny, with the smallest one being a school for the deaf that has only 86 students total. Several schools have under 500 students and they are being asked to compete alongside schools with over 2,o00 students.

The fact that Arizona has such a healthy offering for boys volleyball and the fact that people care enough to grumble about the state of the state playoffs are both developments to be noted. With both of those in place it is only a matter of time before the state starts to accommodate the interest in a growing sport. Now, how can we get a few more states to encounter this "problem?"

2014 Pro Beach Schedule Announced (Tentatively)

Wednesday March 26, 2014

It's tentative, but we now know what each of the major pro beach volleyball tours are planning for the 2014 season. The FIVB, AVP and NVL each published schedules and I've put them all together for you in a comprehensive list of events.

Dates and places are subject to change but it appears that the season will begin with the FIVB's Fuzhou Open on April 22nd. The FIVB season will extend all the way through mid-December. There will be just two FIVB tourneys in August which leaves space for the domestic tours to host events. The AVP will host three events in the month of August while the NVL hosts one.

The NVL will start off the domestic tourneys with an event in Dallas starting on May 22. The AVP's season debut is planned for the following weekend starting on May 29th in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The NVL has a total of six events on the schedule as of now and the AVP is planning to hold seven events. Of the total of 13 domestic tour events, only three will be held in Southern California. The FIVB will bring the World Series of Beach Volleyball back to Long Beach July 22nd-27th for a total of four So Cal events in 2014.

The AVP and NVL will hold competing events on just one weekend as of now. The weekend of August 15-17th the NVL will be in Milwaukee while the AVP is running the famed Manhattan Beach Open. The AVP also announced a partnership with IMG this season so that may mean a return to some of the familiar aspects of pro beach volleyball that we're used to seeing from IMG. But at this point, it's anybody's guess what the AVP has planned for us in Donald Sun's third year at the helm.

Check back for schedule changes as they arise and results once the season is underway.

NCAA Men: Shake Up in Top 5

Tuesday March 25, 2014

Loyola Chicago hung on to the No. 1 spot again this week, but the rest of the top four shuffled this week as Long Beach's eight-match win streak was snapped and the 49ers fell from No. 2 to No. 4 in the AVCA poll.

After a stellar month of play Long Beach had a rough weekend, losing both its matches. Long Beach may have been out of sorts because its eight straight wins were all home matches and the two losses this weekend were their first away matches in over a month. They were beaten by Pepperdine in three sets and by Long Beach in four.

The 49ers were held to a season low .184 hitting percentage against Pepperdine after hitting .300 or better in each of the last five matches. Against USC, the 49ers again hit just .180 but outblocked the Trojans 14.5 - 7.5. With the win, Pepperdine rose one spot to No. 3 but USC remained at No. 7 for the second week in a row.

Long Beach's faltering put BYU back in the No. 2 spot for the first time in three weeks. The Cougars took care of Cal Baptist in three sets this week as their star hitter Taylor Sander became the career leader in kills in the rally scoring era with 1,563. Sander is second all-time in career kills.

Ohio State dropped out of the rankings for the first time all season this week after a five set loss to Harvard. The Crimson won the first two sets rather easily, then lost the next two but won the fifth set 17-15. Harvard re-enters the rankings at No. 15 this week after eight weeks outside the top 15. Harvard also nearly beat No. 12 Ball State this week, taking them to the full five sets, losing 14-16 in the fifth.

This week No. 3 Pepperdine and No. 7 USC head to No. 6 Stanford and No. 5 Santa Barbara and No. 9 UCLA will travel to No. 2 BYU. No. 3 Long Beach will play No. 8 UCI at the Bren Center on Friday and No. 11 Lewis will host No. 14 IPFW. Here are the rest of this week's matches to watch.

Matches to Watch:

Thursday, March 27th
No. 12 Ball State @ No. 1 Loyola Chicago 
No. 7 USC @ No. 6 Stanford
No. 14 IPFW @ No. 11 Lewis

Friday, March 28th
No. 3 Pepperdine @ No. 6 Stanford 
No. 5 Santa Barbara @ No. 2 BYU 
No. 4 Long Beach @ No. 8 UCI

Saturday, March 29th
No. 1 Loyola Chicago @ No. 14 IPFW 
No. 9 UCLA @ No. 2 BYU 
No. 11 Lewis @ No. 12 Ball State

VB Coach's Hair-Brained Scheme Nearly Gets Students Arrested

Wednesday March 19, 2014

I'd love to give this coach points for meaning well, but I can't. The way she went about trying to get drugs out of her school was so half-baked and ill-planned that it nearly got some students arrested.

Clovis High School Assistant Volleyball Coach Kelly Racca, who also served as a campus safety monitor, allegedly asked a student to identify another student who was selling marijuana on campus. Apparently, the student enlisted the help of a friend and Racca gave them the money to purchase drugs from the student in question. One student purchased the drugs while the other took photos of the incident and afterward handed the drugs and the evidence to Racca.

According to the Fresno Bee and court documents, Racca is accused of setting up this entire drug sting using underaged kids without their parent's consent. She also failed to notify authorities of what she was planning. The next day the two kids who bought the drugs at Racca's request were removed from class by police officers, questioned without their parents present and were nearly arrested.

It gets worse. Racca and a colleague then allegedly tried to get the students to retract their statements to police that implicated her so that she would not be punished.

In the end, the kids were not arrested, but they were traumatized. They are now suing the school district for negligent supervision, false arrest, humiliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress among other things. They just may win too. A similar case from 2009 yielded over $1 million in damages against the LA Unified School District.

When Racca should have been concentrating on teaching players about good passing platforms and how to play read defense, and yes, as the safety monitor, keeping kids safe, she ended up endangering them instead.

Think, people. It's important.

NCAA Men: Battle for MPSF Playoff Berth

Tuesday March 18, 2014

Loyola Chicago leads the way for the sixth straight week in this week's AVCA poll. The Ramblers easily beat George Mason in three sets, only allowing them 12 points in the third. They'll meet their first ranked opponents in over a month when they take on No. 10 Lewis and No. 14 Penn State this week.

The real battle is going on in the MPSF. Only eight teams will get a chance to play in the conference tournament for a shot at the Final Four. Right now, the battle for those eight spots is extremely tight.

BYU is in first place and widened its lead over second place Long Beach to three matches this week. Pepperdine is just one game behind Long Beach in third and Santa Barbara is just one game behind Pepperdine in the fourth spot. UCLA and Pepperdine are tied for fifth and just one game behind UCSB. UCI and USC are tied for seventh and just one game behind them. If the playoffs were held today, Hawaii would be just out of the conference tournament, but again, just one game out.

Any of the teams in the bottom six could find themselves out of the playoffs if they falter in these last few weeks of the season. There are only two games separating those teams and each has at least three tough matches remaining on the schedule. So these final weeks are for all the marbles.

As for this week's rankings, Long Beach solidified its No. 2 rank after wins over Ohio State in five and Penn State in three. Pepperdine moved back into the No. 4 spot with wins over UCLA in four and UCSB in five. UCSB fell one spot to No. 5 with the loss.

USC is up two spots to No. 7 after beating cross-town rival UCLA in four sets. The Bruins fell two spots to No. 9 with the loss and have lost five of the last six matches. The Trojans also took No. 5 Santa Barbara to five sets last week. After winning the first two sets, UCSB came back to win the next three, finishing with an 18-16 score in the fifth after nearly two and a half hours of play.

The game of the week goes to No. 4 Pepperdine at No. 2 Long Beach on Thursday. The 49ers will also take on a hot USC squad on Saturday night on the road. Here are the rest of this week's matches to watch:

Matches to Watch:

Tuesday, March 18th
No. 10 Lewis @ No. 1 Loyola Chicago

Thursday, March 20th
No. 2 Long Beach @ No. 4 Pepperdine

Friday, March 21st
No. 14 Penn State @ No. 1 Loyola Chicago

Saturday, March 22nd
No. 2 Long Beach @ No. 7 USC 
No. 14 Penn State @ No. 10 Lewis

Sunday, March 23rd
No. 15 Ohio State @ No. 12 Ball State

NCAA Sand Volleyball Earns Official Championship Status

Wednesday March 12, 2014

Colleges have been adding sand programs at such a rapid pace that it has been nearly impossible to keep track of the tally. But USA Volleyball confirmed this week that the sport crossed the 40-team threshold it needed to trade in its emerging sport status for an official championship sport status. That means the NCAA will take over running the championship from the AVCA.

The wording of the USAV article says that the NCAA "will begin making plans to transition Sand Volleyball to championship sport status" and also called it a "process" which implies that there's no telling how long it will take. But the sport reached this milestone in record time and this development should earn it some legitimacy. Hopefully that will lead to more investment by institutions and more schools joining with new programs of their own.

This year, the AVCA Championship will be held as planned in Gulf Shores, AL on May 2-4. But before that happens, USAV has a couple of tournaments planned as well. The first is this weekend at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and the second is April 12-13 in Hermosa Beach.

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