After the first two sets of Thursday night’s MPSF semifinal match in Provo between the No. 1-ranked BYU men’s volleyball team and No. 4 UCLA, it appeared that the Bruins had found the key to handling the Cougars.
UCLA had roared out of the gate to win the opening frames, extending its run over BYU to five straight sets (the Bruins swept the Cougars in Los Angeles on April 6).
But when BYU had to look deep inside for an answer, they found the heart that defines champions.
The Cougars staged a stunning rally to shock UCLA, 3-2 (23-25, 21-25, 25-18, 26-24, 15-10). With the victory, BYU advances to play No. 3-seed Long Beach State on Saturday at the Smith Fieldhouse for the MPSF title.
“It was a phenomenal match both teams played really well at a really high level,” said Cougar head coach Chris McGown. “We were mystified in first two sets in how to defend them. They played as good as I’ve seen a team play. Credit our guys to have the composure to come back. We did some good things at the net and blocked a lot of balls. I can’t be more proud of guys, their effort and the way they stayed in the match.”
The hero of the night for BYU was outside hitter Josue Rivera, who led the team with 19 kills and used his fiery personality to keep both the Cougar players and the pro-BYU crowd going.
“We’re a great team,” Rivera said. “I love playing with these guys, and I love the fans. I was fired up to play UCLA.”
Cougar middle blocker Devin Young also played at a high level, finishing with 10 blocks and six kills. The biggest one came on the final point of the match when he was able to sent a Bruin attack back to the floor.
“Devin Young works so hard in practice,” said BYU opposite hitter Ben Patch. “In big moments, I’d put him up there with anyone.”
A pair of key sequences allowed the Cougars to be able to rally from the early deficit.
After dominating the third set, BYU went down 7-1 in the fourth and looked to be in trouble. Instead, the Cougars found another level of play.
“We got a bunch of serves at that time,” McGown said. “We talked to our guys that they’ve been in pressure environments and know what it feels like. UCLA had rolled people and not had anyone put pressure on them. That was something we could tap into. We were able to battle through. That was huge for us and that run kicked us back into gear.”
They were aided by 3,382 fans that created a spectacular atmosphere and impacted the game.
“It was exhilarating,” Patch said. “There were so many people out there. It’s hard for a team to come back to five and have energy the whole time. A lot of that was the environment we play in.”
Later in the set, the two teams had an extended rally with the score tied at 20. With each side making incredible plays, it finally came down to Patch finding a way to put the ball away.
BYU ended up squeaking out the 26-24 victory then pulled away in the fifth game.
The Cougars now prepare to take on Long Beach State as get a shot at winning their first MPSF crown since 2004.
The final will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Smith Fieldhouse and can be seen on BYUtv.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.