Mitch Worthington celebrates against GCU on April 23 in the Smith Fieldhouse. (Hannah Miner)

No. 2 BYU men’s volleyball sweeps No. 4 Grand Canyon in MPSF semifinal

The No. 2 BYU men’s volleyball team hung on to sweep No. 4 Grand Canyon University in front of 700 fans in the MPSF semifinal at the Smith Fieldhouse on Friday night.

“(GCU) battled, it was kind of exactly what we were anticipating. We expected it to be back and forth, and it was,” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “I’m proud of our guys. Fun night to be a part of and super fun night to feel the energy.”

BYU breezed through the first two sets, winning both sets by at least six points. Things tightened up in set thee, but BYU outlasted GCU to win set three 29-27 in overtime.

The Cougars were efficient on both ends of the court, particularly in the first two sets. BYU hit a .513 clip through two sets before dipping down to a total of .390. On the defensive side, BYU totaled 11.5 blocks.

“If we play the way we know to every time, we’re going to do great. We start fast, we end fast,” Gabi Garcia Fernandez said.

Senior setter Wil Stanley was the key to the game for the Cougars, as his sets helped the Cougars flow offensively, according to Olmstead. “I told Wil that I thought he was the MVP tonight. I just felt like Wil did a really nice job moving the ball around.”

Set 1

BYU dominated GCU in set one as the Cougars cruised to a 25-14 set win in what may be the best set the Cougars have played all season.

Senior middle blocker Felipe de Brito Ferreira’s kill passed the Antelopes to give BYU a 6-3 lead, sending most of the 700 in attendance to their feet. De Brito Ferreira made them stand again on the next play as he stonewalled an Antelope hit.

Sophomore libero Mitch Worthington’s diving dig led to a block by a wall of Cougars to push BYU’s lead to 13-8. The Cougars rattled off two consecutive points after the play, thanks to great defensive hustle, to extend their lead to seven.

The Lopes had seen enough and took a timeout to regroup. GCU took the point after the timeout before Garcia Fernandez took over.

Garcia Fernandez, the 2021 MPSF Player of the Year, went on a 5-0 run of his own that included four consecutive aces. Each of Garcia Fernandez’s aces sent the Cougar crowd into an uproar.

“That really helped us and gave us momentum. He’s got the green light from us, always,” Olmstead said.

Junior outside hitter Davide Gardini sealed the set for the Cougars as he blocked a GCU hit.

It was a tale of two very different offenses as BYU hit an efficient .444 clip with one error. Meanwhile, GCU hit a .000 clip with eight errors on eight attempts.

Garcia Fernandez was the man of the hour as he compiled four aces and two kills in set one. Senior outside hitter Zach Eschenberg led the Cougars with three kills.

Set 2

The Cougars pulled away late to win set two 25-19.

Set two was close through the mid-way point as both teams jostled to take the set.

With the score at 13-12, BYU was able to build a three-point lead thanks to back-to-back kills by senior middle blocker Miki Jauhiainen and Gardini.

BYU started to pull away as the Cougars went on a 3-0 run to put the score at 23-18.

The Cougars capped off set two with the help of a Miki Jauhiainen kill.

Three Cougars attempt to block a GCU hit. (Hannah Miner)

Set 3

BYU outlasted GCU in a tight overtime, winning set three 29-27.

The Cougars pounced to an early 3-0 lead as Eschenberg provided a pair of kills.

GCU was competitive throughout the set, slowly chipping away at BYU’s lead. The Antelopes tied up the game at 15 thanks to MPSF Freshman of the Year Camden Gianni’s back-to-back aces.

Both teams battled back and forth to try to establish an advantage as GCU finally grabbed a 21-19 lead.

The possibility of a sweep was diminishing as GCU took the first point out of BYU’s timeout to extend its lead to three.

The Cougars responded with back-to-back points to cut their deficit to one.

BYU thought its had the lead and match point at 24-23 before a challenge ruled a GCU error a kill that deflected off a BYU player.

Garcia Fernandez responded with a kill to tie the score at 24. Just like he did in set one, de Brito Ferreira sent the crowd into a frenzy with a kill to give BYU a 25-24 lead .

GCU would quickly tie things up at 25, sending the set into overtime.

Both teams are familiar with each other in overtime sets as BYU and GCU played the longest set in NCAA volleyball history with a total of 98 points earlier this season.

Garcia Fernandez made this overtime a much quicker one as he hit a rocket for a kill to put BYU up 28-27. After the longest rally of the match, Garcia Fernandez got another kill, ending the match and sending BYU to the MPSF Championship game.

Garcia Fernandez’s final kill made the Smith Fieldhouse the loudest it has been the whole year as the Cougar crowd went crazy.

“It was fun to have them back, it gives us chills every time,” Garcia Fernandez said. “We love Cougar nation and to have them back at these last games we have in the Fieldhouse is unbelievable.”

The Cougars will face Pepperdine in the MPSF Championship tomorrow at 7 p.m. MT, for the chance to win the MPSF’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

“We got to get ready for another dog fight. They’re going to come and bring their guns, we’re going to come and bring our bigger guns. We’re going to go ahead and respect (Pepperdine) and respect them the best way, just beating them,” Garcia Fernandez said.

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