Their quarterback returned to action and the top-ranked BYU men’s volleyball team looked more like … well, a No. 1 team.
Senior All-American setter Wil Stanley, who missed Thursday’s 3-1 loss to No. 8 UCLA to open the 2021 season because of an ankle injury, led the Cougars to a .406 hitting percentage in a dominating 3-0 (25-16, 25-21, 25-17) sweep of the Bruins in the Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday.
“Wil is a big part of this team,” BYU’s Davide Gardini said. “We’ve been playing together for three years now and he means a lot to our team and our system. It just feels different when he’s around.”
All-American Gabi Garcia Fernandez, who had 13 hitting errors on Thursday, benefitted from Stanley’s return with 12 kills on 15 swings with zero errors for a career-best .800 hitting percentage. Gardini added 11 kills (.368) and the BYU offense was humming all match long.
What was working? “Everything,” Garcia Fernandez told BYUtv after the match.
“What Wil provided was the distribution of our offense a little bit more,” Cougar coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We had different hitters really active out of the back row. It was a confidence thing. He has experience and maturity and that definitely showed. Our hitters were more comfortable with that rhythm and flow.”
BYU got out to an 18-12 lead in Set 1 after a Garcia Fernandez ace and rolled to a 23-14 advantage with back-to-back blocks from Zach Eschenberg and Mike Jauhiainen. A UCLA serve at set point sailed long and the Cougars won 25-16, holding the Bruins to a .034 hitting percentage.
Set 2 was tied at 19 when BYU started to pull away. A score from Garcia Fernandez pushed the Cougars to set point and a Gardini ace made it a 25-21 win.
The third set was tied at 9-all but BYU outscored UCLA 16-8 the rest of the way. Gardini came out of the back row for a couple of kills and Eschenberg scored twice to give the Cougars a 22-15 lead. BYU hit a sizzling .824 in Set 3 and won easily 25-17 to finish the sweep.
“We were a little more comfortable in those situations where the set was tied up,” Olmstead said. “We definitely got a little more rattled on Thursday when we were in those situations. I thought Wil made very good decisions setting and distributing ball to both pins. Our hitters had a little more of a window.”
Garcia Fernandez wasn’t just an offensive powerhouse. He also sparked the Cougars with his defense, leading the team with nine digs.
“We’re all comfortable with his attacking and serving,” Olmstead said. “But I thought one of the things that changed the tide and momentum was all of the digs he made. He made lot of plays defensively and maybe that’s something we lacked in the past.”
BYU outblocked UCLA 8.5 to 4.0 and held the Bruins to a .152 hitting percentage. Austin Matautia led UCLA (1-1) with nine kills.
The Cougars (1-1) will host Pepperdine next Friday and Saturday in the Fieldhouse. It’s likely BYU won’t be No. 1 when the national polls come out on Monday.
That just gives the Cougars a goal to work toward.
“This is level we can play at and we can do it all year long,” Gardini said. “Tonight gave us lot of confidence.”