The No. 1 BYU men’s volleyball team sent its seniors off strong with a sweep over the USC Trojans on Saturday night, two nights after defeating the Pepperdine Waves in four sets.
With BYU’s win on Saturday the Cougars clinched the conference championship and will host the conference tournament in late April. Taylor Sander and the rest of the team won’t look ahead to the post-season, though.
“We need to take it one game at a time,” Sander said. “It will be a huge advantage for us to keep winning games and keep building as a team toward that national championship. We really need to get after it in practice and not take anybody lightly.”
The Cougars were tested in their 3–1 win over the Waves. Sander led the way for the Cougars (19–3) with 17 kills, 10 digs and five blocks, and Ben Patch and Josue Rivera chipped in 13 and 10 kills. Most importantly, BYU shut down Maurice Torres and Pepperdine’s power hitters. BYU recorded 19 blocks on the night, including 10 in the first set alone.
“You’ve got to be confident going up and blocking,” Sander said. “You want to get a good touch on the ball. I think we did a good job on (Torres). He’s a great player and he’s hard to stop, but if we can manage him just a little bit that’s a win for us.”
BYU dominated the first set 25–15 and played nearly flawless volleyball. BYU coach Chris McGown called Pepperdine’s first set an uncharacteristically bad set. Pepperdine came back with a vengeance in the second set and stole it 25–23. McGown said his team lost that second set by making simple mistakes.
“We didn’t play poorly,” McGown said. “There were a few little things that we didn’t do. These little things add up, and it’s these little points here and there that you give away, and all of a sudden it’s a close set. We played pretty well, but they just were phenomenal offensively, and we didn’t execute a few plays.”
The Cougars got back on track in the third set , winning 25–23, and they closed out the match strong with a 25–18 fourth set victory. With the win, the Cougars have now defeated every team in the MPSF Conference. They avenged a fifth-set loss to the Waves from earlier this season.
BYU cruised in Saturday’s sweep over USC. Sander once again led BYU with 17 kills while recording a career-best .762 hitting percentage. Patch chipped in 10 kills. BYU once again recorded 19 blocks and held USC to a .171 hitting percentage. Rivera served up four aces in the match, including three in four serves. McGown was pleased with the overall effort of his team.
“We played a really complete match,” McGown said. “We were great offensively; we held them to a pretty low hitting percentage, and I thought we made it really difficult for them to get much going on offense. We’re putting together a string of nice matches where we play pretty complete volleyball.”
The Cougars dominated the first two sets before the Trojans made it interesting in the third. The Cougars were down 20–22 but surged ahead with four straight points to make it 24–22. The Trojans tied it up at 24, but the Cougars held on and won the final set 26–24. No player on USC recorded double-digit kills.
Despite the strong play lately, McGown believes his team still has room to improve.
“We think there’s still some upside to this team,” McGown said. “We haven’t tapped the entirety of how good we can be, and so we talked about it. Back to work on Monday. I like the way we’re playing right now, and it feels like we’re continuing to get better.”
BYU improved its impressive win streak to 11 games on Saturday. The Cougars ended the month of March undefeated, going 8–0 over that stretch. BYU is in prime position to make a run at a national championship in May, a goal that is looking more and more reachable by the match.
“These kind of performances are what were starting to do night in and night out,” McGown said. “The guys are starting to understand how good they can be. It’s getting to be a pretty fun team.”
BYU travels to California next week to face UC Santa Barbara and UCLA.
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