It's not often you hear a hush settle over the crowd at the Smith Fieldhouse after the BYU men's volleyball team scores a point.
It happened briefly during the first set of Friday night's home opener against Northridge and for good reason. Cougar senior All-American outside hitter Taylor Sander, easily BYU's best player, was doubled over in pain on the far sideline.
He'd stuck his nose out to make a play — literally.
Sander used his face to make a block and came up with his eyes smarting. It didn't seem to impact his game much, however, as he hammered down 14 kills and a couple of aces to lead the Cougars to the three-game sweep of the Matadors (25-23, 25-22, 25-15).
"It never feels good to get hit in the face but it woke me," Sander said after the match. "We played pretty well after that."
BYU head coach Chris McGown said he wasn't particularly concerned.
"That’s part of the game," he said. "You’re going to have balls that hit off the tape and slap you in the face. As long as he didn’t lose a contact, I knew he’d be all right."
Cougar senior middle blocker Devin Young added that it’s a common sight around BYU volleyball.
“He blocked that one with his eye,” Young said with a grin. “It happens often but it happens more to Taylor because he jumps so high.”
After Sander's unconventional block gave the Cougars a 21-19 edge, Northridge rallied for four of the next five points to go in front and put the pressure on.
Aided by a couple of Matador errors, BYU came back with three straight points of its own to escape with the 25-23 win. Young capped the surge with a huge solo block at the net, the only solo stuff of the night for the Cougars.
“That was big for us,” Sander said. “Last weekend we didn’t do very well at closing out sets, so this was a good thing for us.”
McGown said the emotional impact of being able to come out on top impacted the entire team the rest of the match.
“That might have been bigger than we want to admit,” the BYU head coach said. “If we’d lost the first set at home, guys might’ve started thinking, wondering what was going on. After we won, I felt a shift with the guys and they played with a lot of confidence the rest of the way.”
Northridge didn’t fold after the early setback, challenging the Cougars for most of the second game.
BYU, however, again came up with a key three-point push when it needed it.
With the second frame tied at 17-17, the Cougars got a kill from junior opposite hitter Josue Rivera and two from Sander to pull in front. BYU was solid enough to maintain the edge and get the 25-22 win.
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Up by two sets, the Cougars were able to loosen up and play dominating volleyball. BYU built a big lead and then went deep on the bench to close out the victory.
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Young credited the Smith Fieldhouse crowd of 3,039 people for helping the Cougars maintain their energy.
“It’s great to be playing at home,” Young said. “The crowd was awesome tonight. It may not have been the biggest but it was one of the loudest.”
McGown explained that early in the season victory is often determined by who plays fired-up volleyball.
“At this point, we’re not at the level of clean volleyball we want to be at by the end of the year,” he said. “The way to win is to out-energy the other team. I thought tonight we did really well at that.”
The final stats backed up the view of the Cougar head coach. BYU hit a solid-but-unspectacular .260 for the contest with 37 kills and 17 errors, while also tallying four aces and eight blocks.
Northridge only hit .130 and didn’t register an ace.
While the sweep was nice for the Cougars, they can’t take long to enjoy it. BYU has Long Beach State, currently the top-ranked team in the AVCA poll, coming to town on Saturday night.
“Long Beach is the same team they were last year so they don’t have to worry about chemistry,” McGown said. “It will be interesting to see how we recover. They will be a nice opponent.”
Young said he hopes his Cougar squad can see some carryover from Friday night’s performance.
“We had a lot of momentum at the end,” the senior middle blocker said. “Hopefully we execute and bring the same energy we had tonight.”
BYU will host the 49ers at the Smith Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd.