Gabi Garcia Fernandez sends the ball over the net toward a pair of Bruins in the Smith Fieldhouse. BYU avenged its season-opening loss to UCLA with a sweep on Saturday. (Preston Crawley)

BYU Men’s volleyball responds to season-opening loss with sweep of UCLA

The BYU men’s volleyball program found positives after a season-opening loss to UCLA on Feb. 4. Senior outside hitter Davide Gardini said the team doesn’t have to worry about going undefeated any more and can play more freely.

The No. 1-ranked Cougars did just that Saturday night, sweeping No. 8 UCLA 3-0, and avenging their loss to the Bruins less than 48 hours earlier.

“This is the level we can play at and we can continue this throughout the season,” Gardini said.

All-American senior setter Wil Stanley returned to action after missing Thursday’s matchup with an ankle injury. Stanley’s return was much welcomed by the Cougars, who finished with a .406 hit percentage.

“It feels different when (Wil) is around. We feel a little more comfortable,” Gardini said.

BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead credited the team’s digs on the defensive end, particularly by senior opposite hitter and 2020 AVCA Player of the Year Gabi Garcia Fernandez.

“Gabi made a lot of defensive plays that maybe we lacked last year,” Olmstead said.

Gabi Garcia Fernandez drops down for a dig against UCLA on Feb. 6. BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead credited Garcia Fernandez’s defensive plays for helping BYU to a win. (Preston Crawley)

The Cougars pulled away in set one 25-15, after being tied at five. A diving dig by senior outside hitter Zach Eschenberg led to a kill by Garcia Fernandez, putting the score at 7-5.

The Cougars extended the score to 10-6 behind a kill by Eschenberg and missed hits by the Bruins, prompting UCLA to take a timeout. The Bruins were then able to cut the deficit down to 11-9.

BYU went of a 7-3 run that was capped off with a Garica Fernandez ace to push the score to 18-12. The Cougars were the beneficiaries of inaccurate hits by the Bruins during the run, who only hit .034 in the set.

BYU was able to extend the lead to seven behind back-to-back kills by Garcia Fernandez and Gardini. Senior middle blocker Miki Jauhiainen provided the last two points of the set with a kill and a block.

Garcia Fernandez finished the set with four kills and an ace, while Eschenberg added three kills and a block. Stanley contributed 10 assists in his first set of the season.

BYU won a tight set two 25-21 behind a 6-2 run to close the set.

BYU never looked back after putting the score at 21-19. The Cougars benefited from two missed serves and two errors from UCLA, extending the score to 23-19. Garcia Fernandez added a kill and Gardini served an ace to finish the set for the Cougars.

Gardini got five kills, including a hard-hitting spike from the middle of his side. Garcia Fernandez also had five kills in the set.

The Cougars took set three 25-17 after trailing 8-5 early on.

Jauhiainen added a kill and a block to even the score at 8-8. The Cougars got their first lead of the set at 10-9 after Gardini got a kill.

BYU did not look back after taking the lead, going on a 13-6 run to push the lead to 23-15. BYU once again benefitted from UCLA’s mistakes during this run as the Bruins mishit several balls. The set and match were capped off by an inaccurate serve by a Bruin, fitting considering how the match went for UCLA.

Eschenberg finished the set with four kills and Jauhiainen contributed two kills and a block assist. Sophomore middle blocker Julian Gavin added a block in his first set of the game.

The Cougars’ next match will be in the Smith Fieldhouse on Friday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m against No. 6 Pepperdine.

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