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BYU men’s volleyball gets two wins over UC Irvine

By Darnell Dickson - | Jan 22, 2022

BYU's Alex Ah Sue (middle) leads his team in a celebration after a point during a men's college volleyball match against UC Irvine in the Smith Fieldhouse on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

Shawn Olmstead’s young volleyball team will learn a lot of lessons in 2022. On Friday, that lesson was “How to close out an opponent.”

Tenth-ranked BYU won the first two sets against No. 13 UC Irvine, then failed to convert two match points in Set 4 as the match went to a fifth set. BYU led by as many as seven in that set but had to hold off a furious Anteater comeback, finally finishing with a 3-2 (25-23, 25-23, 17-25, 25-27, 15-12) victory.

It was the Cougars first win of the season after getting swept twice at No. 3 Penn State two weeks ago.

“Nobody needs five-set matches, man,” Olmstead said. “They’re not good for our health, you know? But the guys needed this win.”

Olmstead made a successful video challenge early in Set 5 for a 3-1 BYU lead. Back-to-back blocks from the Cougars pushed the advantage to 7-3. BYU led by as many as seven in the fifth set, taking a 13-6 lead after a UCI service error. The Anteaters closed the gap but Miks Ramanis scored to push things to match point at 14-10. UCI fought off the end twice, but on the third match point of the set, Brandon Oberender snuck in a roll shot that the visitors couldn’t handle for the winner.

Davide Gardini paced BYU (1-2) with 18 kills and hit .238. Alex Ah Sue added 15 kills for the Cougars, which hit just .216 but took advantage of strong service pressure and some timely blocks to hold off UC Irvine.

Francesco Sani had 23 kills (.333) for the Anteaters, Hilir Henno totaled 17 (.314) and Cole Gillis had 10 (.368) as the visitors hit a brisk .331 for the match.

“There’s just a lot of little things and it was all on our side of the net,” Ah Sue said. “We’ve just got to take care of all the balls on our side. They (UCI) are going to score points and that’s okay. We were able to get out to a good head start in Set 5 and just keep that momentum going.”

UCI outhit the Cougars and outdug them too (42-32). BYU had seven aces to 19 errors in the serve game, while the Anteaters finished with just two aces and 24 errors.

The Cougars totaled 16 blocks to the opponents 12, led by Gavin Julien with seven block assists and Ah Sue with six.

“It came down to our serving,” Olmstead said. “They (UCI) didn’t produce enough aces on their side. We out-blocked them a little bit, but they out-dug us by ten. I was proud of the guys for sticking with it.”

Ah Sue’s cross court smash gave the Cougars a 25-23 win in Set 1 and Gardini tapped an off-speed shot off the block at the end of Set 2 for another 25-23 victory, giving the home team a 2-0 lead.

It was the Anteaters who turned up the offense in Set 3, hitting .500 behind the attacking of Sani and Henno for the 25-17 win.

The Cougars led Set 4 by two points at 14-12 but most of the set was tied or within a point. BYU edged ahead at 19-18 after a kill from Gardini and had a pair of match points to end it, but couldn’t convert. UCI’s Cole Gillis went off the block for the winner at 27-25 to force a fifth set.

An announced crowd of 3,174 followed new BYU COVID protocols and enjoyed the match in the Smith Fieldhouse.

“I knew it was gonna be really awesome,” Ah Sue said. “The crowd that we have here, it carries us through a lot of hard times. That’s something that we don’t have on the road and we need to get better at that.”

No. 10 BYU men’s volleyball sweeps UC Irvine in second match

The No. 10 BYU men’s volleyball picked up its second straight victory against No. 13 UC Irvine, sweeping the Anteaters (25-22, 25-18, 25-21) in the Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday.

“It felt great winning in three tonight, coming off a five-set match last night,” said BYU senior outside hitter Davide Gardini. “We are all very sore, and playing a five-set game is super tough. Being able to get that win means a lot to us. We played very well and there are some things we could improve on, but we feel pretty confident right now.”

The teams faced on Friday night in a thrilling five-set match with BYU coming away with a narrow win. In the all-time series between these two teams, BYU now leads 52-20. These two wins over UCI bring BYU’s overall season record to 2-2.

Gardini paced the Cougars with a team-high 13 kills, hitting a .444 hitting percentage while also adding two service aces and three blocks to his stat line. Senior opposite hitter Alex Ah Sue backed Gardini with 11 kills.

BYU freshman outside hitter Miks Ramanis added a career-high nine kills.

As a team, BYU recorded a .395 hitting percentage on 44 kills while holding the Anteaters to a .187 clip.

The Cougars managed a 3-0 run, including a kill by Ramanis, breaking away in Set 1 at 17-14. A few errors by both teams occurred until Oberender notched another kill at 20-17. Gardini and Ah Sue continued the momentum, tacking on three combined kills. A .407 clip gave the Cougars leverage, winning the set at 25-22.

The second set shifted after two kills and two aces by Gardini. This gave BYU an edge at 18-13. From there, Ah Sue celebrated his eighth and ninth kills of the night, widening the gap to 22-17. Two UCI attack errors secured BYU its second set win at 25-18.

Zeo Meyer had a kill to give BYU its first lead in Set 3 at 7-6. BYU followed with three attack errors, giving the Anteaters their lead back at 9-8. This lit a spark under Gardini who slammed two consecutive kills. From that point, the teams tied another twelve times. At 23-21, Ramanis hit his ninth kill. A final service ace by Ah Sue sealed BYU its first sweep of the season, winning the final set 25-21.

Up next, BYU (2-2) will host the University of Mount Olive for a two-game series in the Smith Fieldhouse starting on Thursday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. MDT.

BYU’s Gavin Julien attacks the ball during a match against UC Irvine at the Smith Fieldhouse on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

BYU’s (from left) Alex Ah Sue, Gavin Julien and Davide Gardini set up the block across the net from UC Irvine during a men’s college volleyball match at the Smith Fieldhouse on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

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