Not only will the UCSB men’s volleyball team face the challenges of the road, but they will also have to overcome cold weather and a high altitude when the #6 Gauchos face #3 BYU tonight and tomorrow night at 7 in Provo, Utah.

Securing the top spot in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the Cougars (9-1 MPSF, 11-3 overall) swept Irvine two nights in a row to continue their 10-match winning streak.

“BYU is arguably the best team in the country as well,” UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston said.

Santa Barbara is coming off an upset over Long Beach State and is relying on momentum to face the 2001 National Champion Cougars.

“We’ll see if this momentum can take up to BYU. It’s very difficult to win there,” Preston said. “Not too many teams win there. It’s much tougher than Hawaii.”

BYU leads the series between the schools 15-13 overall and is 9-5 in Provo.

“It’s an altitude and it’s not much fun to play there,” Preston said. “They have really heckling crowds plus the altitude.”

Hitting for a season average of .335 against their opponents’ season average of .281, the Cougars are led by senior outside hitters Fernando Pessoa and Jonathan Alleman and opposite Joe Hillman. Pessoa leads BYU with 168 kills, while Allemand and Hillman have 153 and 143 kills, respectively. Junior setter Carlos Moreno has assisted 555 play-ending kills so far this season and freshman outside hitter Victor Batista leads the BYU front-row defense with 42 blocks.

UCSB freshman opposite Evan Patak has been named Sports Imports/AVCA Men’s National Player of the Week. Patak hit .417 for the week and averaged 6.33 points, 5.5 kills, 1.16 blocks and .83 digs per game to lead the Gauchos in sweeps over UC San Diego and Long Beach State. However, after sustaining an injury early this week, it is unknown if Patak will compete in Provo.

After the BYU series, the Gauchos will return to the road to begin the second stage of MPSF play. UCSB will travel to Northridge on March 10 to face the Matadors for the third time this season. In nonconference matches, Santa Barbara will host Indiana on March 12 and Cal Baptist on March 23.

“I think UCLA, Hawaii, BYU and Long Beach are the teams that have been playing the best up to this point,” Preston said. “Pepperdine, Northridge and we are a little step below.”

The Gauchos will be on the road again to face Pepperdine in Malibu on March 25 and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on March 27.

“The important thing is that we win enough games to get to the playoffs, and hopefully we can do come damage there,” Preston said.