Without Sander, No. 1 BYU men's volleyball struggles in loss to No. 7 Stanford

BYU men's volleyball
2012-02-04T00:20:00Z 2012-02-04T20:48:10Z Without Sander, No. 1 BYU men's volleyball struggles in loss to No. 7 StanfordJared Lloyd - Daily Herald Daily Herald
February 04, 2012 12:20 am  • 

While depth may be one of the strong points for the No. 1-ranked BYU men's volleyball team in 2012, Friday night proved that it isn't invulnerable to bad fortune.

In the first game since the Cougars lost outside hitter and returning All-American Taylor Sander to a hand injury, BYU had a tough time generating the same offensive firepower it had earlier in the season.

The result was a 3-1 loss to No. 7 Stanford in the Smith Fieldhouse (25-21, 20-25, 25-20, 25-18).

While the fans might've been disappointed to see their top-ranked team lose, Cougar head coach Chris McGown said he didn't think his team played that poorly.

"We played about how I expected us to play," he said. "Clearly there are things we can do better, but I didn't think we underachieved. There are a bunch of teams at the top of our league that are really good and Stanford is one of them."

McGown explained that Sander's injury - suffered when he ran into a teammate during a defensive drill on Jan. 27 - will probably keep him out four to six weeks, so his team is going to have to figure out how to be successful without him.

"We're losing a lot of offense and a lot of ball control," McGown said. "It's fun to be able to just throw the ball up to him (Sander) and see what happens. Now we can't do that so we will need other players to fill that void."

The signs of the struggles BYU would endure throughout the match were visible in the first game, when the home team didn't manage to score two straight points until it was already down 18-11.

"That was all Stanford," McGown said. "We'd do some nice things, then they'd get a side-out. They were playing at a high level offensively tonight. They were killing it tonight."

That proved to be a recurring problem as the Cougars only be able to make one or two good plays before the Cardinal would stop the rally.

After BYU dropped the first game, 25-21, it enjoyed its only decent run of the night in Game No. 2 as the Cougars scored four straight to turn a 20-19 advantage into a dominant five point lead. BYU was able to finish things off (25-20) to tie the match up at a game apiece.

Needing a spark, McGown elected to try some different combinations. He replaced outside hitter Robb Stowell, who had only hit .056 in the first two frames, with Steve Rindfleisch, as well as going with other combinations.

"(Stowell) wasn't playing well so I wanted to give him the chance to sit down and re-group," McGown explained. "(Rindfleisch's highs aren't as high as Stowell's, but he's been playing very steady for us."

After some early success, however, Stanford's defense became simply too much for the Cougar offense. BYU had a tough time getting the ball down, allowing the Cardinal to keep attacking for much of the final two games.

The result was the home team only managing to hit .150 and .192 as they fell behind in both of the last two frames and never were able to recover.

The Cougars were paced by 13 kills and no errors from another returning All-American, middle blocker Futi Tavana, who is returning from an injury himself.

"If you asked him, he would say he's not 100 percent but he's getting close," McGown said. "He had a great night tonight. He's worked hard to get back."

Although McGown said he wants to win every match, he's not heartbroken to suffer a loss.

"This is OK," he said. "It's a loss in the middle of the season. We had lineups out there that had never played together. This is a step along the way and had some guys notch experience that we're going to need."

BYU now turns its attention to tonight's rematch, hoping to come into the match with a better game plan and to get better execution. McGown said he hopes his team will do a better job serving the ball and be more aggressive with its swings at the net.

The rematch is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. tonight at the Smith Fieldhouse.

Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or at jlloyd@heraldextra.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.

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