The fact that the NCAA Championships mirrored the MPSF Championships is not a fluke; it’s an exhibition of the high level of play established in the MPSF.

A replica of the men’s volleyball Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship, in which BYU defeated Long Beach State at home for the MPSF title, took place this Saturday.

This time, the match was held at the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center, and BYU went back to Utah as the 2004 national champion.

Only four teams competed for the NCAA title. Each of the three men’s volleyball Division I conferences (the MPSF, the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association and the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association) sent its champion to Hawaii, in addition to Long Beach State, which earned an automatic bid.

With a national championship tournament comprised of only four teams, the competition to qualify is stiffer and the stakes in the MPSF Tournament are higher. Despite the acclaim associated with a team ending its season as MPSF runner-up, the accomplishment still is not good enough to earn an automatic bid to the big times. However, the NCAA at-large bid has traditionally been offered to an MPSF team because of the league’s strength.

Lewis University, the MIVA top dog and last year’s national champion, and EIVA champion Penn State, each met MPSF teams in the first round of play, but never had the chance to face one another. BYU and Long Beach State took care of each non-MPSF team quickly, discarding all of them from the championship in just three games apiece.

As a perennial powerhouse, the MPSF swarms the polls with 10 teams in the season-ending USA Today/American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 15 Poll. BYU topped the charts for the last nine weeks of the season with Long Beach State at an arm’s length away, proving just how accurate such rankings can be.

Unlike women’s volleyball, where there are 979 programs in the country, 312 of which are Division I teams, a men’s volleyball program is a diamond in the rough. Only 23 Division I schools offer men’s volleyball at the varsity level, with 11 of those belonging to the MPSF.

It is no small feat that the UCSB women’s volleyball team ended its 2003 season ranked 22nd in the nation. The Gauchos finished higher than 290 Division I teams, having won the Big West title before losing to #18 Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. However, Santa Barbara did not defeat any tournament teams during the regular season, losing to #2 Florida and #6 Pepperdine in three-game sweeps. UCSB’s superiority over the Big West is evident, but its national status is not as prominent.

The UCSB men’s volleyball team faced both BYU and Long Beach State in regular MPSF play, staying in the top 10 all season. Santa Barbara split a pair of matches with Long Beach State and lost consecutive matches to BYU in Provo, Utah, a high-altitude location that not many teams are able to leave victorious from. While there are fewer men’s teams in total, the Gauchos had to fight harder than their female counterparts to even earn an MPSF Tournament bid, putting them one step closer to the NCAA Championships.

It is no coincidence or stroke of luck that UCSB men’s volleyball players earn spots on the All-American teams; they play with the best of them all season long.