LOS ANGELES — Ben Patch will have to absorb one of the toughest matches of his brilliant BYU start for a couple of years.
Of course, that means he's heading on an LDS mission. Patch wasn't made available to reporters after the season's final match, but BYU volleyball coach Chris McGown didn't believe anything would change in Patch's mindset, even following a .091 hitting Saturday night in which the Cougars were swept in three sets by UC Irvine for the national championship.
"It's been fairly institutionalized at BYU," McGown quipped of the tendency of having an athlete or two leave for church service. "We've known he's wanted to go on a mission since we started recruiting him. It was probably a selling point that we could accommodate that."
The first-team all-American Patch pointed out Friday, in media interviews leading up to the title match at Pauley Pavilion on UCLA's campus, that he still has USA Junior team responsibilities in the summer.
"The lessons that you learn out on a mission translate into your game when you come back, so you just have to work hard again," Patch said of taking a route common to BYU athletes.
Patch was a big reason why the Cougars advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2004. But as he went cold and quiet, so did BYU in the sport's brightest spotlight. He had just seven kills on 22 attempts and only eight points when the Cougars were outscored 68-55 in a match that lasted a surprisingly low 1 hour, 40 minutes. BYU won the two previous meetings with UCI, requiring nine total sets.
Patch work wasn't enough to sustain UCI's quilt of consistency.
He started the critical second game with a kill, and BYU promptly built an 11-4 lead after losing the first game on a late series of miscues.
After producing a usually reliable seven-point cushion, BYU was outscored 21-11. UCI prided itself on playing point-to-point and the Cougars' spotty passing led to several attack errors. Defense was arguably the difference, and McGown thought it was the best his team faced all season. UCI's block advantage was striking from the latter stages of the first set to the rest of the night.
Patch's statistical quietness in the latter stages second set could be implied as one reason BYU had its worst of the three frames.
The only time after building the lead that Patch's name came up was on a two-man UCI block of his shot, giving the Anteaters a 17-15 lead they would never fully relinquish (there were tie scores at 19 and 20).
It doesn't mean Patch,a 6-foot-8 Provo freshman, won't be missed even as he heads into what his coach calls "a really important part of his life."
"Clearly as a coach you've got some mixed emotions about that," McGown said. "But (church service) does things for a young man that no other experience can. But as a coach, of course you'd like to see him stick around."
∫Motivation going forward: BYU hadn't been in a title game since 2004, so it had to have some respect for UCI pulling off back-to-back tittles.
"Just thinking about how hard it was to get to this point, for us. I mean, unless you're in it, you have no idea how hard these guys work every single day, and how much of their soul they commit to being a great volleyball player and buying in to what we're trying to do as a program," McGown said. "It's also a real tribute to how hard they worked as well. They're really a very deep team."
UCLA accomplished consecutive championships in 1995-96, the last team to do it at the Division I level.
∫Extra support: Among the crowd of 6,295 were some other BYU athletes. The baseball team, which was playing at nearby Loyola Marymount, attended the game as a team to support their fellow Cougars.
Both teams were also on the same Sunday morning flight out of LAX. BYU's baseball team won 2-of-3 at LMU in a critical West Coast Conference series.
∫Not hurt?: Ryan Boyce looked to have some sort of rugged lower-leg injury midway through the second set, when he fell hard during a UCI putaway. He stayed in the match, though was pulled in the third set in favor of another primary setter.
McGown insisted the decision wasn't health related, but rather for strategy to get in a taller player that the Anteaters might have less fortune exposing.
"He's running into stuff constantly," McGown said, able to break a slight smile in honor of his mustachioed standout. "The floor, the bleachers, the posts. It's just how hard he plays. I don't even notice anymore."
Boyce appeared to have a heavy limp during the post-game awards ceremony, though of course the way the match went wasn't going to afford any Cougar much adrenaline to mask pain.
∫Extra points: UCI is on a roll, winning its fourth national title since 2007; it's also the second consecutive year its won in a sweep, doing it to USC last May ...BYU is 3-2 in title matches. ...The all-tournament team included Connor Hughes of UCI as the most outstanding player (,364 hitting percentage, 13 points, 11 kills in title game) plus Patch and Taylor Sander of BYU. Four other Anteaters also made the list.