By Ben Schroeder
As fans started filing in for the final regular season BYU-Pepperdine men?s volleyball matchup Saturday night, it was hard not to notice how the Cougars watched how the Waves were practicing. In fact it was almost looked like a real Mountain Lion was stalking its prey for the kill.
Delivering those kills was what the No. 1 Cougars (15-3, 13-1) did Friday and Saturday night, Mar. 12 and 13, in the Smith Fieldhouse to extend their winning steak to 14 games and continue to hold on to first place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
BYU held the No. 5 Waves (11-6, 7-6) to .000 hitting percentage in the first game, whiling hitting .385 percentages as a team.
“This was a good measuring stick for us,” BYU head coach Tom Peterson said.
BYU was looking forward to this matchup to see if they really deserved the No. 1 ranking the coaches awarded the Cougars this past week. Friday showed that the Cougars are right on track to achieving their season goal of a national title by winning
3-1 (30-18, 30-21, 23-30, 30-28).
Victor Batista gave the Cougars a huge lift with a blistering .783 hitting percentage, connecting on 18 kills and committing no errors. Batista tied his career-best in kills and set a new career-high in hitting percentage.
Junior setter Carlos Moreno posted 57 assists on the night, which moved him from fourth place to third on BYU?s all-time assists list with 3,745.
“Carlos set a great match,” Peterson said. “He understood that Pepperdine was going to key on our middles and made the necessary adjustments. He made a lot of good plays under pressure.”
Saturday was anything but a one sided affair as emotions ran high on both sides of the net as every point was fought for like it was the last one of the season.
?I tried to have the look of ?killing? the ball,? said senior Joe Hillman after setting a carrier high in kills with 26.
Game one had those kinds of kills by Pepperdine taking a four point lead and had BYU on their heels until the Cougars tied it at 28. Pepperdine had eight game points after that and with the BYU fans making it difficult to concentrate the Waves committed a few errors to keep BYU around. But, just like Pepperdine, the Cougars committed unforced errors as well and couldn?t come up with two points in a row to get the advantage, Pepperdine won 38-36.
BYU had not been down 0-2 since January when the Cougars played Long Beach State and they wouldn?t let that happen Saturday night either. BYU took a 19-15 lead and never looked back to finish off the Waves 30-24 and tie it at 1-1.
The question remained, who wanted to take control of the match in the second game? Until the 20th point, both teams just kept matching each others tempo when BYU senior Joe Hillman received the ball in his direction. Hillman sat back as Moreno set the ball which looked to go away from Hillman, but Moreno pushed it back to his outside hitter, who came up and drove the ball right in the heart of the Waves to start a 4-0 run.
?Every game you go into, you think about what to do to win,? Hillman said. ?Carlos just seemed to be setting with me tonight.?
The Cougars won game three 30-25 and sent almost 3,000 fans on their feet in a frenzy. BYU ended the game with a .424 hitting percentage to Pepperdine?s .275.
Power accompanied game four with one kill driving Senior Shawn Olmstead into the ground. BYU didn?t let that get to them and finished the Waves off to take a 14-game winning steak to Hawaii and show they we?re worthy of their No. 1 ranking.
Hillman and Fernando Pessoa set carrier-high in kills with 26 and 24 respectively and Moreno set a new season high in assists with 77.
BYU will go on the road to face No. 5 Hawaii in the most hostile arena in the conference before returning home to face defending National Champion Lewis University at home.
“I”m happy with how we played,” BYU head coach Tom Peterson said. “When we pass the ball well, we have a good chance of siding-out. This match was huge, especially leaving to go play Hawaii next week.”