It was an off night. The Fieldhouse didn’t fill up quite as quickly as it usually does. The bleachers were only half full. Even the pre-game music playlist seemed a little funny.
As BYU hosted Cal Baptist on Friday, the men’s volleyball team wasn’t quite itself. The fact that senior opposite hitter Robb Stowell didn’t even dance during warm-ups should have been a sign.
The third-ranked Cougars seemed to know that the visiting 3-9 Lancers would surely be no match for them. This was not the case. Two sets into Friday night’s game, the Cougars were down 2-0 against the Lancers. The coaches, the players and the crowd was displeased.
According to senior middle blocker Futi Tavana, it all boiled down to one thing: BYU overlooked Cal Baptist.
“The stats show that CBU is not very good and we took them a little light,” he said. “It took us a while to get fired up and go, and we can’t do that. We turned it on when we needed to, but we were a little disappointed with how we started off.”
Tavana said it felt like nothing was going right for the team.
“We were just all out of system and out of sync,” he said. “None of us were on the same page. We weren’t passing well. … Just every aspect of the game was off. … It was frustrating because the harder you tried the worse it got.”
Head coach Chris McGown must have said something right during the break following set two, because the Cougars came out swinging in sets three, four and five. According to McGown, the Cougars’ turning point came early in the third set.
The set was tied at 5-5 when BYU went on a 4-0 run, thanks to two kills by redshirt freshmen outside hitter Josue Rivera and one from Tavana.
“I thought that was the turning point of the whole match,” McGown said. “At that point we were able to stop playing from behind. … Getting that little cushion, we can kind of relax and feel better about ourselves and play the kind of volleyball we know how to.”
The Cougars were able to battle back in the third, fourth and fifth sets to defeat the Lancers (22-25, 17-25, 25-17, 25-14, 15-10), fending off what would have been a huge upset. According to McGown, it was encouraging to see the team battle back from such a deep hole.
“On one hand, we don’t want to go five against Cal Baptist,” he said. “But on the other hand, we don’t want to lose, it’s encouraging to see them [BYU] be able to play well. I thought we put it on them pretty well in sets three, four and five.”
On Saturday, the Cougars were able to handle the Lancers in just four sets (22-25, 25-21, 25-21, 28-26).
According to Rivera, BYU was much more prepared going into Saturday night’s game.
“I don’t think we expected them to play that well, so we kind of relaxed on Friday,” he said. “Tonight [Saturday], we decided we had to get up and play hard every point.”
McGown said the team came into Saturday night’s match much more focused and ready to play.
“We decided we were going to focus the whole way through, bring energy the whole way through and that was the big difference,” he said. “Tonight, they [the team] made this really conscious effort to be energetic. After CBU made some really big plays we just went, ‘no, it’s done, let’s refocus and sideout.’”
Rivera led the Cougars with a totaly of 29 kills on the weekend, following closely by Stowell with 28. Junior middle blocker Russ Lavaja and Tavana both turned in 12 blocks, followed by Rivera with 10.
BYU will be in action again on Feb. 24 and 25 as it hosts UC Santa Barbara.