BYU ousts fifth-ranked USC in home opener

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Palms sweating. Heart racing. The inability to sit still. You’re not getting ready to propose — you’re at Saturday night’s men’s volleyball match, an event which is keeping everyone on their toes.

The top-ranked Cougar men’s volleyball team hosted the fifth-ranked USC Trojans on Friday and Saturdays nights, winning both matches after several close sets.

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Taylor Sander hits the ball Friday night at the Smith Fieldhouse against USC. BYU won the match in four games.
On Saturday, the Cougars traded sets with the Trojans, ultimately winning the match after five close sets (25-22, 26-28, 25-15, 19-25, 15-13).

The second and fifth sets were especially close, with both teams playing strong, consistent volleyball. According to sophomore outsider hitter Taylor Sander, winning in a tough match in five sets will serve as a learning experience for the team.

“We didn’t like to go five, but I it’ll be a good learning experience for us and I’m just glad we came out with the victory,” he said.

Head coach Chris McGown added that the team’s ability to win in a tough situation speaks to the team’s character.

“We played really clean volleyball going down the stretch and the guys just had a lot of energy,” he said. “They really showed a lot of heart and did a nice job executing the game plan.”

After winning the first set, BYU had an opportunity to take the second set, leading by as many as four points late in the set, but USC fought back to close out the set at 28-26. Sander said that though the set was tough to lose, the team kept its head up.

“It’s hard, but you have to keep your head up,” he said. “Coach tells us to ‘be the hammer’ and just make plays happen. … I think we did a good job of rebounding back from the game.”

“We played a little bit rough in the second set,” McGown said. “We made a lot of hitting errors and a couple blocking errors. … We were just giving away points, we gave them 11 points off of our errors and it’s really hard to win when you’re giving away that many points. … One of the things I hope the team took from the experience this weekend is that you can’t let teams this good, like USC, stay in the match.”

Sander also said that both teams battled hard and played well.

“They [USC] are a very good team and they didn’t stop battling,” he said. “They have some really good players. … We fought hard and that’s about all we could do. I’m proud of my team for that.”

On Friday night, BYU defeated USC in four sets (25-22, 19-25, 25-17, 25-20).

The first set stayed close until the Cougars took a 4-0 run, with senior setter Joe Kauliakamoa serving, giving BYU a 18-15 lead.  From there, the Trojans would trail the rest of the set.

The second set yielded the opposite result of the first set. With the score tied at 15-15, USC went on a 4-0 run, ultimately extending its lead to six, putting the set out of BYU’s reach at 25-19.

BYU won both the third and fourth sets by more than five points.

Sander turned in a total of 48 kills on the weekend, followed by senior opposite hitter Robb Stowell with 35. Senior middle blocker Quentin Smith led the Cougars’ block attack, contributing a total of 14. Senior setter Joe Kauliakamoa also turned in a total of 111 assists.

Also contributing to the Cougars’ victory were both nights’ crowds. On Friday, a total of 5,124 fans came to watch the Cougars, which is the 24th-largest crowd the Fieldhouse had ever seen.

The Cougars play again on Feb. 3 and 4 as they host Stanford, giving them a two-week break. According to Sander, the team will use that break to improve on their serve and pass game.

“We feel like serve and serve-receive are the most important things we can work on,” he said. “We have great blocking and a great offense, so if we work on that, we’ll be golden.”

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