The BYU men's volleyball team gets hyped up in the huddle on Thursday night. The Cougars are headed to their first national championship game since 2017 after defeating Lewis. (BYU Photo)

BYU men’s volleyball punches ticket to national championship game with victory over Lewis

The No. 2 BYU men’s volleyball team advanced to the national championship game with a 3-1 victory over Lewis in the NCAA tournament semifinals on Thursday night at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio.

“Credit to Lewis for hanging in there being down 2-0. They turned the tide a bit there, but even more credit to our guys for fighting through that lull too,” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “A tough, super close third set and then a really close fourth set, so I’m proud of our guys coming around.”

BYU will look to end a 17-year championship drought against top-seed Hawaii, who swept UC Santa Barbara earlier today, in the championship game on Saturday night at 6 p.m. MDT on ESPNU.

The Cougars’ win marks the third national championship game for Olmstead with the helm, who is looking to win his first national championship as a coach after winning as a player in 2001 and 2004. He previously led BYU to the championship game in 2016 and 2017 as coach.

“Each opportunity to be (at a national championship game) is pretty darn unique,” Olmstead said. “I’m certain that these guys know that this group is a little different than the others, they know and that’s the big deal (that) they know.”

The Cougars were led by their big three of Gabi Garcia Fernandez, Davide Gardini and Zach Eschenberg, who combined for 39 kills in the match. Garcia Fernandez led the way with 17 kills, while Gardini and Eschenberg put up 11 kills each.

Setter Wil Stanley facilitated the Cougars offensively as he compiled a game-high 43 assists.

“Credit to Wil, he is an amazing setter,” Garcia Fernandez said. “He doesn’t get as much credit as he should and he will go down as one of the most legendary setters in the program.”

BYU came out energetic in set one as Garcia Fernandez served a 70-mph ace and rocketed a kill to help the Cougars to a 10-4 lead.

The Cougars benefited from Lewis’ service line issues early on as the Flyers tallied seven service errors. As the Flyers shored things up at the service line, they cut their deficit to 18-16, forcing a BYU timeout.

BYU saw Lewis cut the lead to one, before the Cougars closed out the set, much like they have during the rest of the season. Eschenberg’s ace put BYU up 23-19 and the Cougars didn’t look back the rest of the way.

Lewis’ ninth service error of the set gave BYU the set, 25-22.

Gabi Garcia Fernandez celebrates a point against Lewis on Thursday night. (BYU Photo)

BYU carried the momentum at the service line into the second set as a pair of aces by Garcia Fernandez and Davide Gardini pushed them to a 10-5 lead.

The Cougars continued their offensive efficiency throughout set two with Garcia Fernandez and Eschenberg tallying four kills each.

BYU flexed their defensive muscles to close set two as Felipe de Brito Ferreira blocked back-to-back Flyers’ hits to win set two 25-15.

Set three proved to be more competitive as both teams jostled for the coveted two-point lead. Lewis grabbed a late two-point lead at 19-17, forcing a BYU timeout.

The Cougars tied the score at 19 with two consecutive points out of their timeout.

BYU and Lewis battled to the very end in set three before the Flyers put together consecutive points in overtime to win 28-26.

The Flyers continued their success early on into the fourth set, grabbing an 11-8 lead. The Cougars then rallied a 4-0 run to formulate a 12-11 lead.

Both teams battled through the whole set until BYU took five consecutive points to build a 23-19 lead.

BYU clinched a berth in the national championship game off of a Lewis service error, a fitting end to the match.

BYU celebrates as its name plate is placed in the national championship game spot on the bracket. (BYU Photo)

The journey to end a 17-year championship drought has the opportunity to come to the end on Saturday with the help of someone who was a part of BYU’s last championship team: Olmstead.

“It’s their story and their book and it’s continuing to be written, so that’s cool,” Olmstead said. “Here we are in the final chapters. What’s our book going to tell and what’s it going to say?”

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