The BYU men’s volleyball team survived a challenge from the University of California at Santa Barbara Friday night, coming from behind to pull out a thrilling five-set victory 25-17, 22-25, 21-25, 25-18, 15-13 at home.
It didn’t look like the match would be so close at the beginning, as the Cougars breezed through the initial set.
However, the Gauchos really picked up their play in the second game and won the next two, putting BYU in the uncomfortable position of needing to come from behind.
Set 4 was neck-and-neck much of the way, but the momentum shifted for good when a long volley ended with a kill by sophomore opposite Matt Underwood to make it a five-point lead with a resounding roar from the crowd.
The fifth and deciding game was as close as the match as a whole and reflected the strength of both clubs.
The Cougars jumped out quickly with the first three points, but UCSB responded and tied the score at four, the first of three ties in the set.
BYU never trailed again after one of the six kills by senior outside hitter Taylor Sander made it 7-6, but the Gauchos never backed down and nearly caught up again when a Matt Hanley kill pulled them within 13-14.
The exuberant crowd of 3,048 lifted the team throughout the match, but especially in the final set. The noise was deafening as UCSB made the final serve.
Sophomore setter Tyler Heap was able to make a pass to Underwood up top, and he finished the play to secure the thrilling victory for the Cougars. He had 11 kills on the night, with six of those coming in the fourth set.
Sander tied his season high with 27 kills and also had eight block-assists and five digs. “I could have played better, but I was happy to win,” he said. “We’ll keep working and come out better the next time.”
He said the Gauchos just outplayed them in particularly the second set. “They’re a really good team and they were playing well. We had trouble siding them out,” Sander said, also attributing some of the struggle to not playing as a cohesive unit.
However, BYU was able to turn that around in the fourth set. “We had to battle,” Sander said. “We changed our mind-set, played as a team and punched back. It’s good for us to have to fight and compete. We’ve got to prepare better for sure.”
He added that the crowd was a huge contributor to the win. “Volleyball is a game of momentum,” Sander said. “We can definitely feel the energy in here and that certainly made a difference at the end.”
Head coach Chris McGown wasn’t surprised by how the match went. “I’ve been telling everybody that UCSB is the real deal and that’s what you saw tonight,” he said. “They scrapped and found ways to get points.”
He said they got his squad playing sideways in the second set and even into the third. “We didn’t play great, but we found a way to dig out a win, and that’s important for us,” McGown said.
“These kinds of matches expose weaknesses,” he said. “We’ll go back to work. There’s still time left in the season.”
The No. 2 Cougars (17-4, 17-2) next host No. 9 UCLA (14-8, 11-7) on Saturday at 8 p.m. MDT.
Beky Beaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.