The BYU men's volleyball team celebrates a point against GCU. The Cougars came back from being down a set early to win the five-set match. (Preston Crawley)

No. 1 BYU men’s volleyball overcomes injury to beat No. 10 GCU in a five-set thriller

The No. 1 BYU men’s volleyball team came back to win a three-hour, five-set match at the Smith Fieldhouse against No. 10 Grand Canyon on Saturday.

Things looked bleak for BYU after the Cougars dropped the first set and were on the brink of losing set two. To make matters worse, senior middle blocker Felipe de Brito Ferreira came off with an injury as BYU trailed 22-20 in the second set.

BYU was able to regroup after the injury and put together an impressive team effort to defeat the Antelopes in the decisive fifth set, even after sets three and four were each decided by just two points.

“We have a really deep team,” Branden Oberender said. “Our whole team believes anyone can come in and win a game.”

De Brito Ferreira came out with an apparent ankle injury late in set two. Oberender finished the match in place of de Brito Ferreira, finishing with three blocks, two aces and a kill.

“I thought (Oberender) did an outstanding job, considering coming in at that moment.” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said.

Senior outside hitter Zach Eschenberg had a much-needed career-high 16 kills for the Cougars.

“I thought (Eschenberg) did a good job. He made really key digs,” Olmstead said.

Set One

BYU dropped set one 27-25 after seeing a late lead crumble. GCU was accurate during the set, hitting at a .522 percentage.

The Cougars jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead with senior opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez getting a kill and an ace. GCU was able to take a 9-8 lead off of back-to-back aces by the Antelopes’ redshirt freshman Camden Gianni.

Not to be outdone, Garcia Fernandez hit back-to-back aces to give BYU a 12-10 lead. The Cougars extended their lead to four at 20-16 after a Garcia Fernandez block.

GCU mounted a 6-1 run to take a 22-21 lead. The rest of the set was tight, as neither team would pull away in regulation.

The Cougars had an opportunity to close the set at 25-24, but GCU blocked a Garcia Fernandez kill attempt. The Antelopes then went on a 3-0 run to close out the set in overtime.

Garcia Fernandez finished the set with four kills, three aces and a block. Senior outside hitter Davide Gardini provided four kills and a block in the set.

Set Two

BYU clawed its way back from two deficits of at least three points to win set two 28-26. The set was close throughout as there were 14 ties and five lead changes.

The Antelopes came out in the set strong, taking a 7-3 lead and forcing a BYU timeout. BYU came out of the timeout on a 4-0 run to tie the game at seven. The Cougars improved defensively after the timeout as GCU hit four straight errors.

The set was tight for a while, with no team being able to pull away until GCU went on a 3-0 run to take an 18-15 lead.

GCU seemed to pull away in the set as they extended the lead to 21-18 on a Gianni kill. The set seemed even worse for the Cougars as de Brito Ferreira came out of the set with an injury.

Then everything clicked for the Cougars as they went on a 10-5 run to win the set. A GCU error tied the score up at 24. BYU once again tied things up at 25 with a Gardini kill.

With GCU taking a 26-25 lead, BYU took the next three points to close out the set. Gardini was clutch for the Cougars late as he got a kill and an ace to finish the set.

Eschenberg finished with five kills in the set, while Garcia Fernandez added four kills and a block.

Set Three

The Cougars were unable to repeat another comeback in set three, losing 25-23.

Set three started out much like set two as the Antelopes jumped out to an early 6-3 lead. The Cougars tied things up at six thanks to back-to-back aces by Oberender, de Brito Ferreira’s replacement.

GCU once again built up a 3-point lead, 12-9 after an ace. BYU tied the score again at 15 after an Eschenberg kill.

The Antelopes then got out to another three-point lead, 19-16 off of another ace. BYU cut the score to one, 24-23 before GCU capped off the set with a kill that hit Gardini in the head.

Eschenberg continued his strong form, finishing the set with four kills and a block.

From left: Zach Eschenberg, Felipe de Brito Ferreira and Gabi Garcia Fernandez attempt a block against GCU. De Brito Ferreira left the match with an injury, but Eschenberg and Garcia Fernandez both had double-digit kills. (Preston Crawley)

Set Four

BYU held off GCU’s late rally to win set four 25-23.

Set four started off tight at 5-5 before BYU went on a 4-0 run, forcing a GCU timeout. Eschenberg provided two aces during the run.

BYU continued to push the pace as the lead grew to 21-16, forcing another GCU timeout. The Antelopes refocused out of the timeout and cut the Cougars’ lead to 24-23. On the match point, a GCU serve sailed out-of-bounds, giving the Cougars the set.

Garcia Fernandez had three kills and an ace in the set and Eschenberg added two kills and two aces.

Set Five

The Cougars pulled away in set five, winning 15-11.

The Cougars grabbed an early 4-3 lead off of a hustle play, which saw Wil Stanley run to GCU’s side of the court. A Gardini kill gave BYU a 12-7 lead, forcing a GCU timeout in the process.

GCU cut the Cougars’ lead to 14-11 after consecutive BYU errors. On the ensuing GCU serve, the ball hit the GCU side of the net, giving the marathon match to the Cougars.

The Cougars will travel to GCU for a two-game series in their first road trip of the season next week. The next match will be Feb. 25 at a time to be announced.

Olmstead wants his team to be a little more confident in these next two games against familiar foe GCU. “We’re gonna know each other really well. We need to play a little more confident, with a little more swag.”

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