UC Irvine, Stanford set to make cases for volleyball Final Four

Two of the last three NCAA men’s volleyball champions appear headed back to the Final Four.

UC Irvine and Stanford, both absent last season, meet Saturday night at the Galen Center in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament championship match. The winner earns an automatic berth in next week’s Final Four, also at the Galen Center.

The MPSF tournament runner-up usually gets an at-large berth.

Second-ranked Irvine (23-5), the 2009 NCAA champion, is led by senior opposite Carson Clark and junior outside hitter Kevin Tillie, who powered the Anteaters’ five-set semifinal victory over top-ranked USC. The Anteaters won despite committing 26 service errors.

“One of our strengths is we have some guys that hit the ball hard,” said Irvine Coach John Speraw, who also guided the Anteaters to the 2007 NCAA title. “Our defense … hasn’t been as good as some other teams so we’ve kind of green-lighted our guys and we’re accepting a certain number of more errors than maybe most teams.”

Stanford outside hitter Brad Lawson and libero Erik Shoji, pivotal players for the Cardinal’s 2010 NCAA championship team, played big roles in Stanford’s four-set semifinal victory over Brigham Young.

Among the interested observers of Saturday’s result will be USC (23-5) and BYU (24-7). Each will try to convince the NCAA selection committee that it deserves the at-large berth.

If Irvine defeats Stanford (22-6), USC will make the case that its loss to Irvine was a hiccup that ended an 18-match winning streak, and that its 2-0 record against Stanford this season shows it deserves the nod. USC was 1-2 against Irvine.

BYU will argue that it was 2-0 against Irvine and 2-0 against USC. But the Cougars were 0-3 against Stanford.