The second-ranked Cougar men’s volleyball team took to the road this weekend to take on the top-ranked UC Irvine Anteaters. The Cougars defeated the Anteaters on both Friday and Saturday nights to reclaim the country’s top spot.
After losing to UCI just over a week ago, BYU came out strong and improved upon its weaknesses to sweep the nation’s top-ranked team. According to sophomore outside hitter Taylor Sander, the team lost last week to UCI in large part because BYU lost the serve and serve-receive battle. This week, BYU won that battle, head coach Chris McGown said.
“Whenever we played well in a set, it was because we won the serve and serve-receive battle,” McGown said. “The difference this week for us was we had a chance to figure out how to pass and serve at this altitude.”
McGown also said that the team did a good job of coming together as a team to figure out UCI’s style of play.
“Our guys did a nice job learning about their team and putting together a good game plan against them and they executed very well,” McGown said.
On Saturday night, the Cougars took a quick 2-0 lead over the Anteaters, but the momentum swung in the opposite direction during the third and fourth sets. The Cougars were able to regain the momentum in the fifth and final set, for a final 3-2 victory (25-22, 25-19, 15-25, 20-25, 15-9).
Senior opposite hitter Robb Stowell led the Cougars on Saturday night with a season-high 21 kills, followed closely by Sander with 18 kills. Senior setter Joe Kauliakamoa turned in 51 assists, while junior middle blocker Russ Lavaja had a game-high six blocks.
On Friday night, BYU swept UCI in three matches (25-20, 25-21, 28-26).
According to McGown, the difference in the Cougars’ easy Friday-night sweep and Saturday’s five-set nail-biter was the serve and serve-receive game, in addition to the team’s passing game.
“We didn’t pass well and we got a little tentative with our serves,” he said. “When we stop passing well, it became a little bit harder to run our offense and when we became tentative with our serves, they ended up running their offense really well.”
Even with Saturday night’s struggles, though, McGown said the team still played very good volleyball.
Sander led the Cougars’ Friday night attack with a 17 kills and a career-high .727 hitting percentage. Senior middle blocker Quentin Smith turned in eight kills and four blocks, while Stowell contributed 14 kills and four blocks.
The Cougars’ next match will be Friday and Saturday, Jan. 20-21. This weekend will be the team’s home opener, as they take on the USC Trojans.