Men’s volleyball suffers setback in season opener against No. 8 UCLA

The No. 1 BYU men’s volleyball team lost 3-1 against No. 8 UCLA at home Thursday night to open the 2021 season.

It was BYU’s first loss to an MPSF opponent since 2019 and UCLA’s first win in Provo since 2009.

The game was played with both teams wearing masks, in accordance with protocol placed on Pac-12 teams, which UCLA is a member of for its other sports.

The Cougars were without All-American setter Wil Stanley, who was sidelined with an ankle sprain. Head coach Shawn Olmstead did not have a time table for Stanley’s return.

Olmstead credited UCLA’s hustle during the match, saying the Bruins were energized to face the No. 1 team in the nation.

Olmstead also said he wanted his team to create their own points, instead of relying on the UCLA to make mistakes.

Gabi Garcia Fernandez, right, chats with a UCLA player during the season opener on Feb. 4. The Cougars lost in four sets to the Bruins. (Hannah Miner)

Set 1

The Cougars dropped the first set of the season, 25-22, after leading for much of the set. UCLA rallied from as much as four down to win the set. A few serves missed the mark for the Cougars and BYU had a hit percentage of just .156. The inefficiency allowed the Bruins to claw back to take a 21-20 lead.

UCLA did not relinquish the lead as they went on a 4-2 run to close the set. 2020 AVCA Player of the Year Gabi Garcia Fernandez displayed his dominance from last year in this set, getting five kills. 2020 All-American junior outside hitter Davide Gardini and senior middle blocker Felipe De Brito Ferreira each provided three-and-a-half points, registering two kills and a block apiece. 2020 All-American Honorable Mention senior outside hitter Zach Eschenberg added three kills.

Set 2

BYU lost 25-21 in a tightly-contested set that included 15 ties. The set was tied 17-17, then the Bruins went on an 8-4 run to close the set. The Cougars struggled with their hit percentage in this set as well, hitting at .120. UCLA on the other hand hit at .556 this set.

Garcia Fernandez stood out early in the set, proving to be a source of points through kills. He finished with six kills in the set. Gardini provided two kills and an ace in the set. Freshman setter Zeo Meyer, Stanley’s replacement, added a kill. Olmstead was happy with Meyer’s performance as he stepped in for an All-American on short notice.

Freshman setter Zeo Meyer passes to Miki Jauhiainen against UCLA on Feb. 4. Meyer filled in for the injured Wil Stanley. (Hannah Miner)

Set 3

The Cougars responded after dropping the first two sets by dominating UCLA 25-15 in set three. BYU jumped to a 7-0 lead with senior middle blocker Miki Jauhiainen providing a kill and three aces early on.

The Bruins tried to stop the Cougars’ momentum with a timeout, but BYU continued its hot streak, extending the lead to 17-8. Jauhiainen finished the set with two kills and three aces. De Brito Ferreria added three points during the third set.

Set 4

UCLA killed off BYU’s momentum from set three, taking set four 25-22. The Bruins were able to jump out to a 10-6 lead and never looked back, extending their lead to 22-16. BYU tried to rally, cutting the deficit to 22-24. The next serve hit out of bounds, ending BYU’s rally and the game, giving UCLA the win. De Brito Ferreria was a bright spot during this set, contributing four kills and two blocks.

The Cougars return to action in just two days as they seek revenge against UCLA on Saturday, Feb. 6 in the Smith Fieldhouse at 4 p.m. MST.

Olmstead said his team will need to be more willing to “live in the trenches” if they want to beat the Bruins on Saturday night.

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