The 4,190 screaming fans cheered on Ben Patch as he smashed the last point into the ground. A grinning and dancing Rusty Lavaja held up the trophy with fellow senior Ryan Boyce and soaked in the moment. Coach Chris McGown even gave the fiery libero Jaylen Reyes a chest bump, and reality set in.
The BYU Cougar men’s volleyball team is the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Conference champions.
No. 1 BYU swept No. 2 Long Beach State in the Smith Fieldhouse Saturday night (28–26, 25–22, 25–22) to capture its first conference championship since the 2004 season, the last time it also won the national championship.
Outside hitter Taylor Sander was named MVP of the tournament.
“It means a lot,” Sander said. “We’ve worked so hard all season and have grinded through so many hard practices. To have this happen to us and to go to the Final Four is just a blessing. It’s been a fun road.”
Joining Sander on the conference tournament’s honorable team were teammates Josue Rivera, an outside hitter, and Devin Young, a middle blocker. Sander averaged over 13 kills per match in the tournament, Rivera averaged over 10 kills per match and Young averaged over five kills and six blocks. Patch wasn’t named to the team despite averaging 20 kills per match throughout the tournament.
The previous two games were full of drama for the Cougars, and Saturday’s match was no different.
The first set was tight throughout. Long Beach State took the largest lead of the set at 21–18 and appeared to have it wrapped up, but kills by Patch and Young tied the set up at 21. Long Beach State had two chances to close out the set leading 24–23 and 25–24, but couldn’t close it out. BYU also had two chances, and succeeded in closing Long Beach State on a Patch kill and a Sander ace.
“At the crucial times in the match, BYU executed,” Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe said. “It wasn’t spectacular play and it wasn’t necessarily a complete breakdown on our part. They played better when they needed to win the set and ultimately the match.”
BYU quickly fell behind 0–3 in the second set but kept it close the rest of the set. After trailing 15–17, BYU rallied back to take a 23–19 lead and ultimately finished the set off with a Patch kill.
BYU struggled early in the third set and looked almost out of it trailing 14–17. BYU then scored seven of the next nine points to take a 21–19 lead. Back-to-back service aces by Patch in that stretch gave BYU the lead for good. BYU closed out the set on a Patch kill and a defeaning roar from the crowd.
“Matches can turn on one or two points, and I thought that’s exactly what happened tonight,” McGown said. “More than anything, I thought the boys just did what they’ve been doing all season long which is continue to stay in the moment and just keep battling every single point.”
With the win, BYU automatically qualifies for an NCAA tournament bid. Four teams around the country participate in the tournament, and Loyola and Penn State along with BYU secured spots in the tournament on Saturday night. BYU will likely play one of those two teams in the opening round.
“We’re not done yet,” Sander said. “We’re going to keep working hard this week and go get that national championship.”
BYU will enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed on Thursday at the Pauley Pavilion, home of the UCLA Bruins. If BYU wins, it will advance to the championship game on Saturday. The championship game will be aired on ESPN.