The No. 1-ranked BYU men's volleyball team looked pretty impressive when Cougar junior All-American outside hitter Taylor Sander blocked a Hawaii attack to tally the third straight point for BYU to start Saturday's MPSF quarterfinal match in Provo.
The Cougars looked unbeatable after a pair of Warrior errors and another Sander block put BYU up 6-0.
For the next two games, however, it was Hawaii that proved the Cougars can be beaten.
The Warriors pushed BYU to the brink of elimination by going in front two sets to one, but instead of wilting under the pressure the Cougars turned things up a notch to get the 3-2 win (25-19, 20-25, 22-25, 25-12, 15-13).
"I thought we played well in the first, the fourth and the fifth," said BYU head coach Chris McGown. "But we lost our way a little bit in the second and third. The first round of the playoffs is hard."
Even though the Cougars picked up their level of play, it still came down to a big call on the final point to give BYU the win.
With the Cougars holding a narrow, 14-13 advantage in the final frame, Hawaii appeared to have given the match away with an over-pass. BYU senior middle blocker Rusty Lavaja took a big swing to put it away, only to have it dug (with one arm) by a Warrior player.
As the ball came bounced toward Hawaii setter Joby Ramos, it broke the plane of the net and Cougar senior setter Ryan Boyce went up to attack it, touching the ball before Ramos could set outside hitter Jace Olsen.
Olsen hammered the ball home, apparently tying the game, but BYU protested. The referees confirmed that Boyce had in fact touched the ball and awarded the point and the match to the Cougars.
"If the ball crosses the plane of the net, the setter if he's officially in the back row can still set that ball," McGown explained. "But if one of our players makes contact while they are in the process of setting it, he's considered a back-row attacker at that point. That was the call."
Boyce said going for that type of play is a natural instinct after years of playing volleyball, but this particular call had some vindication because he had been on the other end of two similar calls earlier in the match.
"The ball was coming over the net and I knew the ref was calling those pretty tight," he said. "I touched the ball and it was pretty much the exact same play that I got called for. That was it."
Although the thousands of fans at the Smith Fieldhouse might've been confused by what the final call was, they were only too happy to celebrate BYU's dramatic win. McGown credited their support for helping the Cougars to get the victory.
"Thank goodness we had a wonderful crowd behind us," he said. "It was as loud as I've heard it. Some of my favorite parts of the match was hearing the crowd get after those guys."
Boyce said when the match finally ended up in BYU's favor, he was able to enjoy it but he said his team has to play better in upcoming matches.
"We've got to get better," he said. "That's all I can think about."
McGown wasn't surprised that the Warriors proved to be such a tough opponent, since they had been playing with nothing to lose for the last few weeks.
"I was really impressed at the amount of heart they showed," he said.
The Cougars had to deal with some monster serving from Hawaii, which frequently forced them out of their offense. That gave the Warriors the edge they needed to get wins in Sets No. 2 and 3.
"They found some rhythm from the service line," McGown said. "We knew they were going to hit the heck out of the ball and they were going to serve great. I was impressed with how they came to altitude and served as well as they did. It got us in a lot of trouble."
But the Cougars bounced back strong and dominated the fourth frame, earning the easy 25-12 victory to force the deciding final set.
That one turned out to be a slugfest with neither team gaining more than a two-point advantage.
"It was loud," Boyce said. "I thought we played pretty well. We served the ball on the court and did good things. We did a good job running the offense."
McGown said both teams turned to their big hitters to make plays -- and those hitters came through on both sides.
BYU had a slight advantage since Hawaii, as the visiting team, served first. Thus the 14-13 advantage was on serve and gave the Cougars the first opportunity to win the match -- one they took advantage of.
BYU was led by 25 kills from freshman opposite hitter Ben Patch, while Sander added 13. Hawaii got 18 kills and four aces from Brook Sedore and 16 kills from Taylor Averill.
With the win, the Cougars advance to the MPSF semifinals where they will take on No. 4 UCLA.
"We can't play like that and beat UCLA," McGown said. "They are going to be phenomenal. We're going to probably have to play our best volleyball to beat them."
That match will take place at 8 p.m. MDT in Provo on April 25.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.