Cougars advance to national semis

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    The BYU men’s volleyball team rallied from a two-game deficit to win Saturday’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament Championship over Pepperdine.

    By winning the conference title, BYU earns the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Final Four, which starts Thursday in Long Beach.

    Pepperdine, ranked No. 1 in the country coming into the match, earned the at-large bid over Hawaii. The other automatic bids went to No. 4 Lewis and No. 7 Penn State.

    BYU begins the tournament against Penn State (26-5) at 9 p.m. on Thursday.

    BYU earned its 25-30, 31-33, 30-28, 32-30, 15-7 win over Pepperdine behind some great individual performances.

    Senior outside hitter Jaime Mayol led BYU with a career-high 23 kills. Jonathan Alleman added a double-double with 22 kills and 10 digs.

    But it was middle blocker Michael Burke who came up with three timely blocks to lead the Cougars’ late rally in game four.

    Leading 29-27, Pepperdine had double match point. But Burke got a kill and then combined with setter Carlos Moreno to block Pepperdine’s next attempt, tying the game at 29.

    After a BYU service error and a kill by Mayol, Burke stuffed two kill attempts by Pepperdine’s All-American middle blocker Brad Keenan to give BYU game four.

    The Burke-led surge also spilled over into game five, where BYU jumped out an 11-4 lead. Pepperdine never really threatened after that.

    It was the second time this season that BYU rallied from a two-game deficit to beat Pepperdine.

    “It was a fabulous comeback,” BYU coach Tom Peterson said. “I sure liked what we did tonight. We changed some things around and changed the momentum and that made the difference.”

    Burke and Gorny both added 15 kills, and the Cougars also tied a single-match record with 50 digs.

    BYU got to the title match by sweeping No. 2 Hawaii, 30-28, 37-35, 30-27, in Thursday’s long-anticipated showdown against Hawaii.

    Chris Gorny led BYU’s win over the defending national champions with his best performance of the season.

    Gorny hit .846, registering 11 kills in 13 attempts.

    Alleman and Rafael Paal both recorded double-doubles in kills and digs.

    “I thought we were very steady, even though we had points where we missed serves or they served great against us or there were runs of points,” Peterson said. “Our demeanor on the court was a big key to what we did tonight. In the second game, they came back from seven points behind and we could have folded at that time, but I thought our demeanor was steady the whole time. We’re a pretty emotional team, so that was good for us.”

    BYU set up the Hawaii match by defeating Cal State-Northridge in four games. After a sluggish first two games against the Matadors, BYU put it together and slammed the Matadors in the final two games.

    The semifinal matches on the national tournament will be held on Thursday at 7 and 9 p.m. The matches can be seen on tape delay-basis on ESPN2 on Friday at 9 a.m. and noon.

    The championship match will be held Saturday at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.

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