The BYU men’s volleyball team didn’t pass, serve or attack as well as it can in Thursday’s Mountain-Pacific Sports Federation semifinal match in Provo against UC Santa Barbara.
But the Cougar block made up for it.
BYU put a wall up over the net for long stretches of the contest, forcing the Gauchos to work to get the ball through. The Cougars tallied 17.5 total blocks (to just three for UCSB) as BYU swept the match 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-20).
We serve well at home and that put them out of system“,” Cougar middle blocker Michael Hatch said. “We were able to get two or three up on the block. The tough serving of Taylor Sander and Dylan Young led to easy sets.”
BYU head coach Chris McGown said he thought the performance at the net played a big part in his team coming up with the big win.
“We missed more serves than we would’ve liked but I thought it was critical that we stay aggressive,” he said. “That allowed us to set up the big block. Guys were in great spots and we executed.”
McGown said the 17.5 blocks was well above average and added that the number is even more impressive when the fact that it came in just three sets is added in.
“They actually did a great job of covering (off the block),” he said. “There was one sequence where we blocked and they covered, we blocked and they covered, we blocked and they covered, three in the same spot. Then they tried to go to the other side and we blocked that one too. We were able to put so much pressure on them, it was great.”
The Cougars actually had two stretches in the third set in which the block scored multiple points. With the home up just 11-10, BYU got four out of the next five points -- all of which came off blocks at the net -- to build a comfortable cushion.
With victory in sight at 21-19, the Cougars again used the block to tally three straight points and virtually secure the match.
“When you get a stretch like that, the crowd gets going and brings so much energy,” Hatch said. “That leads to more points. It gets the block pumped up. When we get two or three in a row, we’re unstoppable.”
McGown said that two of the most exciting plays in volleyball are a back-row attack by Cougar senior outside hitter Taylor Sander and and stuff block anywhere.
“That gets everyone first up and ignites the team that is doing it,” McGown said. “When you do it in succession like that, it brings you up but it also demoralizes the other team. They start feeling like they can’t hit a ball that you won’t block. It gets in their psyche a little bit.”
Hatch ended up leading the Cougars with a career-high 13 block-assists.
The other crucial factor proved to be no surprise: Sander.
The senior led BYU’s attack with 15 kills and hit .500 for the match. But his biggest contribution might’ve been from the service line, where he bombed serve after serve over the net -- 22 total -- to spots where the Gauchos had a tough time getting in position to stop it.
The Cougars also get 10 kills from freshman opposite hitter Tim Dobbert, including the one that clinched the match.
“I actually talked to (BYU setter Robbie Sutton) and told him I wanted the last ball,” Dobbert said. “That way I could put everything into that swing.”
Since he also got the last block in the win over USC in the quarterfinals last Saturday, Sander said Dobbert “likes closing out matches for us.”
With the win, the Cougars advance to Saturday’s MPSF championship where they will face Stanford with the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line.
That game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and can be seen on BYUtv.
Stanford 3, Pepperdine 0: In the opening semifinal, the Cardinal proved to be too much for the Waves. Stanford started strong and never let up, hitting .474 in a match in which they won all three sets comfortably. The Cardinal were led by 17 kills on 24 attacks by Brian Cook.