The No. 10 Pepperdine Waves came to Provo on Friday and Saturday, hoping to dismantle the No. 5 Cougar men’s volleyball team. Their efforts, however, were futile.
BYU not only swept Pepperdine on both Friday and Saturday nights, but it saw the triumphant return of sophomore outside hitter Taylor Sander after he missed four weeks because of a broken hand.
“[Having Sander back] changes everything for us: offensively, in transition, in serving, in passing,” BYU coach Chris McGown said. “He’s just such a big presence on the court that the other team really has to pay attention to him and what he’s doing and it kind of lets everyone else play a little freer, play a little smoother and with a little less pressure. It’s just great having him back on the floor.”
McGown also said having Sander back on the court clearly changes the energy on the team, allowing the Cougar squad to play to the best of its ability.
“This was mostly just a team effort, but I think it’s wonderful having Taylor back in,” McGown said. “You can just feel a different energy in our group. Everybody’s just a little more relaxed in they understand that he’s going to do some things we didn’t have before, so it makes their jobs a little bit easier. But I thought we played great as a team. I thought we passed well, I thought we served great, we fulfilled the assignments that we had according to the gameplan.”
According to Sander, the Cougars made a point of playing with a heightened energy level against the Waves, which ultimately paid off.
“We just played really well and when we’re playing well I think everything kind of comes together and we’re able to pick each other up as teammates,” Sander said. “The captains made it a responsibility for us to be loud out there on the court, and it only helped us do a lot better.”
On Friday, the Cougars defeated the Waves in four sets (25-21, 19-25, 25-19, 25-16).
According to McGown, BYU struggled in the second set because of hitting errors and strong serves from the Pepperdine players.
“We made a lot of hitting errors and I think that was a function of receiving,” McGown said. “They kind of got on us as servers and we didn’t pass as well as we needed to. We talked to the guys at the break about it’s just a matter of passing. We actually played pretty good in that set, but [Pepperdine] just played great and kind of served us out of system and we made a bunch of hitting errors. We challenged our passers and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do better right now,’ and they came out great and really stepped up.”
On Saturday, BYU swept Pepperdine three straight sets (25-22, 25-23, 25-20).
The Cougars’ blocking came out strong on both nights, as they nearly doubled the Waves’ total team blocks on the weekend. Sander said the team’s blocking ability gives the team an extra momentum boost.
“We’re one of the best blocking teams in the nation, and I feel like that helps our momentum and it helps our energy throughout the game,” Sander said. “So, getting a big block is always a big momentum-changer.”
McGown said BYU’s blocking is most important in what it forces opponents to do.
“When we can start getting some stuffs, it makes other hitters think, ‘Hey, I’ve got to go around, I’ve got to go over, I’ve got to do something against this good block,’ and it puts some pressure on them,” McGown said. “It’s important for us, not so much in the way we score points, but just in what it forces other teams to do.”
Senior middle blocker Futi Tavana led the Cougars in blocks with a total of 10 on the weekend, followed by junior middle blocker Russ Lavaja with nine. Sander led the Cougar attack with a total of 34 kills on the weekend, followed by senior opposite hitter Robb Stowell with 24 and Lavaja with 18.
BYU will be in action again on Friday and Saturday as it hosts Pacific.