Dropping just one game and maintaining an impressive .497 hitting percentage on the weekend, the No. 3 BYU men’s volleyball team defeated No. 12 Cal State Northridge on March 29 and 30 in Provo.
According to BYU coach Chris McGown, the weekend’s victory will set a precedent for the remainder of the Cougars’ campaign and hopefully serve as a springboard into the postseason.
“This is the start of the last third of the season and we wanted to set a tone emotionally with these matches for the rest of the season,” McGown said. “We wanted to come out with fire and come out with energy and just play loud and hard. I thought we did a better job with that than we’ve done in a long, long time.”
The Cougars easily defeated the Matadors on Thursday night (25-10, 25-20, 25-20). Sparked by an early kill from sophomore outside hitter Taylor Sander, the Cougars jumped to an early 7-3 lead and kept the momentum throughout the entire first set.
The Matadors were able to somewhat close the gap in the second and third sets, but with the Cougars maintaining a .423 hitting percentage and outblocking the Matadors 10.5-2, their efforts were ultimately futile.
Junior middle blocker Russ Lavaja attributed BYU’s lopsided victory to a solid game plan prepared by coaches.
“We just put together a really nice game plan this weekend. Our coaches put in a ton of work for us every match that we play,” Lavaja said. “A lot of guys stepped up and that really showed in the first set and I think we can keep it up going into the next matches.”
After a disappointing road loss to Long Beach State, McGown said BYU made it a goal to more adequately prepare itself for this weekend’s games.
“The guys were chapped after Long Beach and frankly, the coaches were, too,” McGown said. “We’ve talked about it all week, we said we wanted to blast through this last third of the season … This is the night we wanted to start having a different mental attitude, different energy, different emotion. I thought the guys were great coming out.”
Cal State Northridge looked much more prepared on Friday night as it was able to steal BYU’s early momentum to take the first set 25-23.
McGown said not only did the Matadors play better, the Cougars made several costly errors in the first set.
“Northridge just played better – they did really well and we just made a bunch of mistakes from the service line and we didn’t pass very well,” McGown said. “We couldn’t run our offense the way we wanted to and we weren’t giving ourselves any chance to score points defensively with our serve, we ended up making a close set out of it even though we weren’t playing great.”
According to sophomore outside hitter Andrew Heap, the team’s disappointing performance early in the game can be attributed to poor execution and lack of focus.
“We’ve talked a lot about mentally and emotionally preparing yourself for a match. Throughout the day, even during class, your mind kind of shifts when it should be going to the game,” Heap said. “I think we prepared well both nights, but sometimes you just don’t execute as well and guys just don’t play as well.”
Sander led the team with 37 kills an a .656 hitting percentage on the weekend. He was followed by senior opposite hitter Robb Stowell with 28. Lavaja contributed 16 kills.
BYU will be on the road on April 6 and 7 to take on No. 3 UCLA.