The BYU men’s volleyball team won the regular-season title in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and thus earned the top seed into the MPSF tournament, which concluded with a hard-fought victory over Long Beach State Saturday night in Provo.
It was a sweep as the Cougars managed to win all three games, but it was far from easy. The scores alone – 28-26, 25-22, 25-22 – indicate a close match, but they don’t even begin to tell the story.
It was 49ers coach Alan Knipe who really put his finger on what turned out to be the difference in the title tilt.
“They executed at the most critical times,” he said, going on to explain that the well-contested match played out pretty much as he expected.
“We had a lead in the first game and we had a lead in the third game,” he said. “But, just as in the semifinals, they played better when they needed to win the match.”
There’s a precise, one word description for what Knipe was talking about. It’s called heart.
BYU simply fought and fought. They never lost contact – they were down by four once, by three a few other times – but they really had to put things together at the ends of matches to pull them out, and they were able to do so.
Junior middle blocker Devin Young, one of three Cougars selected to the All-Tournament team, named the squad’s unity as a key factor.
“We won this match as a team,” he said. “We stayed composed and we picked each other up. Even when they made little runs, we responded.”
He said the passing game was also critical to their success.
“Ryan Boyce has been setting me great,” Young said. “I can’t take much credit. We’re also taking it one step at a time. We want to keep going.”
Junior outside hitter Taylor Sander was still gushing about the triumph even after the trophy had been awarded and most of the crowd had dispersed.
“To have this happen to us, to go to the Final Four, is just a blessing,” he said. “We battled through this tournament and it’s helping us grow as a team.”
As Knipe noted elsewhere in his comments, with both of these programs – and, I might add, others in the MPSF – it’s not about flash, it’s about substance.
There was, of course, plenty of spectacular play on both sides, but it was really the solid execution of the fundamentals that truly made the difference, especially when the chips were down.
This is BYU’s first NCAA tournament appearance since winning the National Championship in 2004, and the fifth Final Four berth overall. The Cougars are 7-1 all-time in the tournament.
No. 1 seed BYU (25-4) will take on take on No. 4 seed Penn State (23-7) in the semifinals on Thursday at 9 p.m. MDT in the Pauley Pavilion on UCLA’s campus in Los Angeles.
Beky Beaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.