The BYU men’s volleyball team was on the verge of getting swept for the first time all season on its home court and for the second time in two weeks, against UCLA.
Devin Young, Ben Patch and the ROC made sure that didn’t happen.
In the MPSF tournament semi-finals, a do-or-die match for both teams, BYU played just well enough to advance to the final game of the conference tournament.
“(It was) exhilarating,” Patch said. “The crowd was cheering for us, showing us support. It’s hard for a team to come back from two losses (and bring it) all the way to five and have energy the whole time. A lot of it is just the environment we play in that we’re able to come back and work even harder than we normally would because of the support we have behind us.”
Josue Rivera led the Cougars with 19 kills, while Patch added 17 kills, five digs and six blocks. Taylor Sander contributed 12 kills, six digs and six assists, and Devin Young had a game-high 10 blocks, including the final block in the fifth set to clinch it for the Cougars. Gonzalo Quiroga led the Bruins with 22 kills.
BYU coach Chris McGown had no answer for UCLA in the first two sets. BYU kept it close in each of them, but ultimately dropped both 25–23, 25–21. UCLA took the crowd out of it and looked like they were going to run away with the match.
“We were mystified for the first two sets about how to defend,” McGown said. “I thought they were as good as I’ve seen a volleyball team play for those sets.”
BYU changed some of its tactics at halftime and regrouped for the third set. McGown talked to his team after the second set to help them move on from the disappointing first two sets.
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“It seems like they’re playing a little differently than we thought they would, so we can’t defend them the same way,” McGown said. “Most of all, we put a smile on our face and said ‘hey we got some work to do, let’s go to work.’ This team knows that it’s in them to come back.”
The crowd got behind the Cougars and willed them to a third set win, but not without drama. The Cougars faced six set points, leading 24–13 before finally putting the Bruins away 25–18. Those five straight points gave the Bruins a load of momentum going into the fourth set.
UCLA jumped all over BYU in the fourth set, setting the tone early and jumping out to a 7–1 lead. It looked all but over for BYU when McGown subbed out struggling setter Ryan Boyce and inserted freshman setter Tyler Heap into the lineup.
“It felt like Boyce was trying to do a little too much,” McGown said. “He’s really, really good when he’s loose. It felt like he was trying to be a little bit too perfect. We just said ‘hey, let’s see if Heap can give us a change of pace.'”
That change paid off immensely for the Cougars. The lineup change sparked a 7–1 run for the Cougars and made it a close set. The Cougars fell behind 16–18 later on in the set, but a Sander ace gave them a 23–21 lead. The Bruins stormed back to tie it at 24-all, but a UCLA service error and a Patch kill clinched the set for the Cougars.
The fifth set was back and forth until the score was tied at nine. BYU scored six of the last seven points, ending with a double block by Patch and Young. A few fans rushed the court to celebrate with the players as the UCLA team walked off in disbelief.
“I credit our guys to have some composure and to come back with a lot of pressure that we put on them,” McGown said. “We’re just trying to apply the formula, which is play hard every single point. In this tournament, if you’re making the tournament at all, you’re a phenomenal volleyball team. There are no easy matches in our conference, and certainly no easy matches in this tournament.”
The victory came on the same day that three BYU volleyball players were named as All-Americans. Sander and Patch were named as first-team All-Americans, and senior Rusty Lavaja was named as a second-team All-American. Patch was also named the AVCA Newcomer of the Year.
BYU hosts Long Beach State on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the conference championship match. Long Beach State defeated UC Irvine in the Smith Fieldhouse previous to the BYU match to advance to the conference championship.
“We want to win the MPSF championship,” McGown said. “Long Beach is a really good team, and we’re not in any way taking them lightly.”