BYU men's volleyball huddles during a game against Grand Canyon University. (Mike Miller)

BYU men’s volleyball drops 5-set match to Grand Canyon despite career-highs

After taking the first two sets against No. 9 Grand Canyon University on Saturday, No. 13 BYU men’s volleyball was outgunned, losing 3-2. Four of the five sets went to tiebreakers, with GCU taking the win 24-26, 28-30, 25-22, 28-26, 18-16. The loss is BYU’s seventh in a row.

Despite the losing streak, the Cougars showed effort and energy throughout, turning in a true team performance to back up two career-highs from senior outside hitter Davide Gardini and sophomore setter Bartosz Slawinski. The pair teamed up frequently throughout the match, as Gardini’s career-high 29 kills made up half of Slawinski’s career-high 58 assists.

“He’s shown a lot of big-time leadership,” head coach Shawn Olmstead said of Gardini. “He’s carrying a pretty heavy load, especially with a lot of the young guys. I think he’s doing pretty darn well to be honest, and we’re asking, slash expecting, so much from him, sometimes maybe too much. But he’s never shied away from it, he’s never backed down from it. We can’t say enough good things about him.”

BYU’s Davide Gardini attacks against Grand Canyon University. (Decker Westenburg)

Gardini was quick to praise Slawinski’s setting, both tonight and throughout the season. “He’s doing really good and it changes a lot when you have a standard that is very consistent in setting like that. It makes everything much easier for us for sure.”

The match started off well for BYU, as a 4-0 run in set one forced a quick GCU timeout. While the Antelopes stayed within striking distance for the rest of the set, BYU never trailed. A late GCU rally sent the set to a tiebreaker, but a kill from freshman outside hitter Miks Ramanis gave the Cougars the set, 26-24.

BYU again started strong in set two, leading for all but three points throughout. The set was an indicator of how close the rest of the match would be, as the score was tied 14 times. While strong offense was present, including eight kills from Gardini, the scoring was muddled by errors, as the teams at one point traded four service errors as part of GCU’s 10 in the set. After 11 back-and-forth tiebreaking points, an unforced Antelope hitting error gave BYU the 30-28 set win.

GCU began to pull away with its offensive power in set three. They broke a 14-all tie, never trailing again on the way to a comfortable 25-22 set win. The shift in momentum showcased the Cougars’ continual need to work on defense in practice.

“We got to keep improving on our defense, we showed glimpses of it. We asked the guys to do that and they did it and they got better. We just gotta stay the course there and we’re gonna focus on that,” Olmstead said of his plans for the upcoming week.

Head coach Shawn Olmstead watches his team. (BYU Photo)

Set four showcased a young BYU team’s ability to battle in close matches. The teams traded points in a thrilling set that featured 15 ties, including 12 in a row. GCU had set point up 24-21, but a BYU rally forced the tiebreaker, which the Antelopes eventually won 28-26.

Set five continued the drama. A Gardini ace, BYU’s seventh of the match, tied the set at six, before a Ramanis kill tied it again at seven. The Cougars’ first lead of the set came at 10-9 from another Gardini kill. Gardini’s hitting skills continued, putting BYU on the verge of victory with a 14-12 lead. However, GCU came storming back with three consecutive points. After trading tiebreakers, GCU finally sealed the winning set 18-16.

“It’s big-time, that they stayed involved, that they stayed engaged, and they stayed in it as long as they could,” Olmstead said of his young team. “They battled all the way to the end against a really good team, a good veteran team.”

GCU was led by junior outside hitter Christian Janke, who recorded 31 kills. Freshman setter Nicholas Slight manned the offense with 56 assists. The team finished with 27 service errors, much to the delight of the 2,753 BYU fans in attendance at the Smith Fieldhouse. BYU’s seven aces were registered by six different players.

The Cougars will look to break their losing streak when they visit USC for two games next weekend. The Cougars’ next home matches are Mar. 11-12 against Concordia University, Irvine.

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