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BYU men’s volleyball powers past Lewis, will face Hawaii in NCAA Finals

By Darnell Dickson daily Herald - | May 6, 2021
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BYU's Felipe de Brito Ferreira (16) rises for a kill in the NCAA semifinals against Lewis at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

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BYU's Davide Gardini (1), Miki Jauhiainen (18) and Wil Stanley celebrate a point in the NCAA semifinals against Lewis at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

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BYU's Davide Gardini (1), celebrates a point in the NCAA semifinals against Lewis at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

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The BYU bench celebrates a point during the NCAA semifinals against Lewis at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

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The BYU men's volleyball team celebrates in the locker room after beating Lewis 3-1 in the NCAA semifinals at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

The men’s volleyball championship match expected in 2020 has finally arrived.

When COVID-19 shut down college volleyball last season, BYU was ranked No. 1 and Hawaii No. 2. The rankings are switched this year, but the Cougars and Warriors will finally face off for the national championship.

Hawaii swept UC Santa Barbara in Thursday’s first semifinal at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio, and BYU powered past Lewis 3-1 (25-22, 25-15, 26-28, 25-20) in the second to set up what should be an epic final on Saturday.

“This group just a bunch of good guys,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. “Each opportunity to be here is pretty darn unique. I am certain the guys know they are a little different. It’s their story and their book and it’s continuing to be written and that’s pretty cool. We talk all the time about how we’re here at the final chapters. What’s it going to tell and what’s it going to say?”

BYU won the first two sets by jumping out to big early leads and appeared to be well on its way to the final, but Lewis found its footing and grabbed the momentum in Set 3, forcing a fourth set. The Cougars eased out to a 22-19 lead on a big play from Davide Gardini, who saved an overpass and recovered to throw down a kill. A block from Miki Jauhianen got BYU to match point and a Lewis service error ended it at 25-20 for the win.

Our serving went down a little bit,” Gardini said. “Lewis fed off that and started playing better. But something I like about this group is we notice when we’re not clicking. We kind of all felt it coming back in the next set and we all know what we need to do. I love to be a part of this group because of that. A little bit of our mojo was missing and I’m glad we got it back.”

Gabi Garcia Fernandez led BYU with 17 kills (.364) and had two aces, just two away from setting a program career record. Gardini (11 kills) and Zach Eschenberg (11 kills) aided the offensive attack led by setter Wil Stanley, who had 43 assists, eight digs and five block assists as the Cougars hit .354.

Felipe de Brito Ferreira was strong at the net with six block assists, also adding six kills in eight swings (.625).

Ryan Coenen had 13 kills to lead Lewis but hut just .132. As a team, the Flyers managed just a .238 hitting percentage – way below their season average of .345 and had 22 service errors, nine in the first set.

BYU got an ace from Fernandez and Eschenberg went off the Lewis block for a quick 5-1 lead in Set 1. The Cougars led by as many as six points but the Flyers rallied and closed to within one at 18-17. BYU surged at the end, getting a timely ace from Eschenberg, and finally won the set 25-22 on a Lewis service error. The Flyers actually hit a higher percentage than the Cougars (.407 to .400) but Lewis had nine service errors.

The BYU defense started to take control in the second set, holding Lewis to a .229 hitting percentage. Ferreira killed an overpass for a 12-7 Cougar lead and had back-to-back blocks to close out a dominating 25-15 win and a 2-0 lead in the match.

Set 3 was ultra-competitive and tied 20 times. Lewis took its first lead of the match at 7-6 and had four set points that BYU held off. Finally, Gardini was blocked attempting a tip and the Flyers took the third set 28-26 to keep the match going, setting up the fourth and deciding set.

“In sports there are always ups and downs,” Fernandez said. “What makes this team good is the mental strength we have.”

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