The No. 5 BYU men’s volleyball team swept the visiting Pacific Tigers on March 9 and 10, winning both matches in three sets (25-23, 25-12, 25-18; 25-21, 25-20, 26-24).
Though the Cougars swept the Tigers on both nights, the wins weren’t necessarily a walk in the park. On Saturday, the Cougars trailed for most of set three and were down by as many as six points several times during the set.
The Tigers were able to jump ahead early thanks in large part to junior outside hitter Taylor Hughes, who turned in seven kills in the third set alone. The Tigers’ defense was also fairly strong, as they had 10 digs in the third set, making it especially hard for the Cougars to get a kill.
Just when it seemed Pacific would take BYU to a fourth set, the Cougars rallied around big kills from sophomore outside hitter Taylor Sander as well as strong blocking from senior middle blocker Futi Tavana, senior opposite hitter Robb Stowell and junior middle blocker Russ Lavaja.
After being down 15-9, BYU clawed its way back into the set, tying the score at 20-20 on a Lavaja, Stowell block. The Cougars finished the set, and match, at 26-24 on a block from Tavana.
Perhaps the highlight of the weekend was Tavana setting the BYU record for total blocks in the rally scoring era. Tavana took down the previous record of 538 blocks, reaching 539 blocks early in the third set on March 9. Tavana increased his tally to 543 before the weekend’s end.
Tavana said he didn’t know he was even close to the record until several days prior to Friday’s matches. He credits his coaches and teammates for helping him reach such success.
“I had no idea I’d even get close to [the record],” Tavana said. “When I switched to this position my freshman year, I didn’t think I’d this good. But credit to my coaches for turning me into a middle blocker and credit to my teammates who made that transition a lot easier for me. It made my job a lot easier.”
Head coach Chris McGown said the game marked the first time he had seen the team maintain such a high level of composure.
“I thought we did something I hadn’t seen us do all season long, which was stay composed in the middle of a set when we were getting kind of beat up and then slowly turning it around,” McGown said. “We talked about playing one point at a time and staying disciplined, sticking to the fundamentals and not trying to get them all back at once because we can’t. We just said we have to refocus and play just play good, fundamental volleyball. I thought we did that really, really well.”
McGown also said the Cougars’ ability to battle its way back from such a large deficit is a testament to its maturity.
“This is a team with a ton of heart for sure, but I think it speaks more to their mental maturity,” McGown said. “They’re starting to figure a few things out and they’re starting to trust each other and trust our systems, and that’s getting us wins.”
On Friday, the Cougars struggled in the first set to establish any kind of momentum. According to Tavana, the team’s problem was its nervousness.
“We pressed a lot and when we start pressing, it’s kind of hard to catch a good rhythm,” Tavana said. “Luckily for us, our block was on and they pretty much saved us in that first set. The next sets, things started coming together. We were passing better, Joe started setting better and our hitters were putting balls away.”
BYU will be on the road for the next two weeks as they travel to the University of Hawaii on March 16 and 17 and Long Beach State on March 23 and 24.