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No. 3 BYU was on fire offensively in its home opener Friday night and finished with a 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-22) sweep of 15th-ranked Penn State in front of a lively Smith Fieldhouse crowd of 4,440.
The Nittany Lions (0-1) stayed close in two of the sets and tried to ride the wave of energy from the home crowd, participating in several spirited exchanges at the net with BYU after key plays.
But the Cougars ended up making more of those key plays to back up their bravado.
“We love it, especially when we’re in the Smith Fieldhouse,” said BYU sophomore Davide Gardini, who had 13 kills on 16 swings with just one error. “They (Penn State) can do whatever they want, but at the end of the day we have an advantage here. They have to try to do something like that. but at the end we’ve got the best so we’re good.”
Gardini’s hitting percentage (.750) tied for 10th-best in BYU history for a single match. At one point in the second set, the Cougars were hitting .588 before finishing at a robust .464, Gabi Garcia Fernandez leading the way with 14 kills and hitting .455.
“It all started with us passing much better overall,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We’ve told the guys that if we can pass well or to a standard that we call good (50% good passes), then we’re going to be a really tough team to defend. That showed tonight. That’s what great teams do. Good passes are where our setter can get there and we have all the options.”
Sets 1 and 2 were highly competitive and close throughout. There were 13 ties in Set 1 and 11 in Set 3, but the Cougars ended up making key plays at the end to earn the sweep. One of those plays was a crucial service ace from fan favorite Jon Stanley, a redshirt sophomore. Stanely came into the third set with BYU leading 22-21 and Penn State earning some momentum.
“We love him,” Olmstead said. “We weren’t able to travel him last week (to Loyola-Chicago and Lewis), but every day this week I’ve been telling him, ‘Jon, you’re going to come in and serve an ace.’ His energy is awesome. Credit to my assistant (Micah Noane) who saw Penn State was shading one way and made the call. Jon has this hybrid kind of serve and his eyes lit up and he told me he was ready to hit that.”
Stanley’s serve dropped into an open corner for a 23-21 advantage. At match point, Fernandez and Miki Jauhiainen teamed up for a block of Brett Wildman for the winner and the sweep.
BYU (3-0) hit .500 in Set 1 but couldn’t shake Penn State until late. The set was tied at 18 when the Nittany Lions committed a hitting error and Jauhiainen threw up a solo block for a 20-18 lead. The Cougars got to set point on a Gardini kill and Fernandez went cross court for the winner in a 25-23 victory.
BYU took control of Set 2 early and never trailed. Gardini had a pair of kills and a service ace in 5-1 run that pushed the Cougar lead to 16-8. Gardini came out of the back row to get BYU to set point and eventually Penn State served into the net for a 25-19 win and a 2-0 lead in the match.
Wildman paced the Nittany Lions with 11 kills and hit .421.
“I felt that in a few key moments, we made some plays,” Olmstead said. “For the most part, most of the three sets were pretty close, so hats off to them. We got some big plays from our big guys in Davide and Gabi when we really needed them, and the guys got a few key blocks down the stretch that really turned things in our favor and put them a little bit on their heels.”
The two teams meet again at 5 p.m. today in the Fieldhouse.