Cougars split with UCSB, lose first conference game

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    By Jessica Molinengo

    The No. 9 BYU men”s volleyball team split their series against No. 10 UC Santa Barbara this weekend, recording their first loss in the MPSF Friday and clinching a highly contested second match Saturday.

    Crippled by 26 service errors, the Cougars dropped their first match against UCSB in five sets (27-30, 27-30, 30-27, 15-12).

    Despite the loss, the Cougars saw exceptional performances from outside hitter Andrew Stewart, who logged 17 kills, and opposite Mat Taylor, who finished with 16. Middle blocker Futi Tavana stepped up and contributed 15 kills, leading the team with a .583 attack percentage. In addition, libero Joel Silva recorded 10 digs for the night, proving himself as the rock of BYU”s defense.

    Outside hitter Jeff Menzel led UCSB”s offensive threat, finishing the match with 25 kills. Opposite Cullen Irons also logged a career-best 16 kills for the Gauchos.

    Back-to-back kills by Tavana in combination with the Gauchos” attack errors gave the Cougars a 12-6 lead early in the first set. Four Cougar service errors gave the Gauchos the 22-21 lead. Solid blocking by setter Yamil Perez and middle blocker Otavio Souza brought the Cougars back, allowing BYU to claim the first set.

    Neither team gained more than a one-point lead in the second set until BYU finally pulled ahead 21-19. Tavana and outside hitter Jeff Robinson each knocked down kills to give BYU a six-point lead but UCSB would not be denied and cut the lead to one point. After a Cougar timeout, co-captain Reed Chilton”s service ace and a kill by Taylor brought BYU to game point, which the Cougars earned off a UCSB service error.

    UCSB claimed the third and fourth sets as BYU struggled from the service line, logging 14 service errors in those two sets alone.

    The final game of Friday”s match began with Stewart”s back-to-back kills. The teams continued battling point for point, but UCSB prevailed despite BYU”s staving off two match points.

    The Gauchos last defeated BYU during the 2005 season.

    Although the Cougars continued to suffer at the service line with 18 service errors Saturday night, BYU claimed the tight second match 29-31, 31-29, 15-30, 30-24, 15-8.

    Taylor contributed a career-high 26 kills against the Gauchos, followed by Stewart, who recorded 21 kills for the night. Perez distributed the ball effectively as he recorded a season-high 66 assists.

    “Mat [Taylor] continues to play really steady and smart volleyball,” BYU head coach Shawn Patchell said in a news release. “Some of his kills came at big moments when we were out of our system. He was able to manufacture kills and help us get back on track.”

    UCSB”s big gun Menzel logged an impressive 29 kills against the Cougars. Irons followed with 15 kills for the night.

    The first set of the match ended in heartbreak as the Cougars failed to finish after outside hitter Kevin Sagers” kill brought BYU to game point at 29-28. After Chilton served game point, UCSB”s Menzel tied it up with a kill to make the game 29-29. After Menzel knocked down another kill, the Gauchos secured the 29-31 win with a service ace by middle blocker Scott Slaughter.

    BYU came back in the end of the second set, winning yet another close game 31-29. The two teams played point for point for the majority of the game until Stewart”s stealthy serving put the Cougars up 27-26. UCSB continued to battle, however, as the teams matched each other three more times during the set until a triple block by Taylor, Sagers, and Souza finalized the win.

    The Cougars hit a wall in the third set, losing 15-30 to the Gauchos. UCSB went on a 4-0 run in the beginning, forcing BYU to call a timeout. Regardless of BYU”s attempts to regain momentum, the Gauchos” lead continued to grow as UCSB maintained a nine-point lead throughout most of the match until going on a 5-0 run to record the win.

    Following the pattern of the first two sets, the teams traded points until Stewart tied the game at 9-9 with a kill. After that, the momentum was clearly in the Cougars” favor as they handed UCSB a 30-24 loss.

    BYU secured the match after a kill by middle blocker Russell Lavaja sparked a 4-0 run, bringing the Cougars to game point at 14-7. Stewart”s kill put the Gauchos out of their misery, bringing the final score to 15-8.

    “Not only is it important to win a five-set match, but to do it on the road is huge for our young team,” coach Patchell said. “I”m proud of how we responded from last night”s disappointment. Our team showed resiliency and we made some improvements.”

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