Attendance was down and so was the Cougar men’s volleyball team as the seventh-ranked Stanford Cardinal came to Provo, defeating BYU on both Friday and Saturday nights.
The Cardinal, coming off a road win over defending national champions Ohio State, swept the Cougars in three sets on Saturday night (35-33, 25-23, 25-22).BYU gained the upper hand early in the first set, maintaining the lead well into the set. After three consecutive BYU attack errors, Stanford took the lead at 19-18. For the remainder of the set, the Cougars and the Cardinal traded points until, after fending off seven game points, the Cougars failed to stop the Cardinal, putting the set securely out of the way at 35-33.
Though the team lost the set, head coach Chris McGown was pleased with the Cougars’ performance.
“It was a great first set and it was fun for our guys to play in that,” he said. “I thought we battled and I thought it was great, but it just didn’t go our way. … It would have been nice to get that one for sure.”
BYU continued to battle during the second and third sets. The second set was close until the end as both teams failed to put together any kind of run until Stanford’s Steven Irvin put away the set-winning kill at 25-23.
The Cardinal jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead over the Cougars in the third set and maintained the lead the rest of the game. The Cougars were able to close the lead to one point several times throughout the set, but five Cougar service errors and the Cardinal’s front-row attack put the set and match out of reach at 25-22.
According to McGown, BYU’s ability to play hard and keep the match close from behind is a testament to the team’s character.
“I thought we came out in the second and really battled,” he said. “They worked hard and they never gave up. … One of the things we talked about was how hard they played the entire time. They got down one and they didn’t quit, they got down two and they still didn’t quit.”
Stanford took the match in four sets on Friday night (25-21, 20-25, 25-20, 25-18).
The Cougars were without sophomore sensation Taylor Sander, one of the nation’s leading hitters. Sander suffered a broken hand in practice and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks. However, senior middle blocker Futi Tavana saw his first court time this season after recovering from a ruptured achilles.
Tavana’s return, along with Sander’s absence, has caused some shuffling of the Cougars’ lineup, as freshmen outside hitter Andrew Heap and junior opposite hitter Steve Rindfleisch saw an increased amount of playing time this weekend. According to McGown, the changes are allowing the team to become closer and stronger as a whole.
McGown also said that, through the losses, the team gained important experience, especially for the younger, more inexperienced players on the team.
“I thought we got better,” he said. ”We put as our primary passers a sophomore and two freshmen, so these are young guys that are asked to handle a lot of the ball control and I thought they played great and got a lot of maturity in just one weekend. We put some young guys out there that got some experience that I think is going to pay off for us down the road.”
The Cougars travel to California to take on UC San Diego on Feb. 9 and 11.
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