Somewhere out there in cyberspace is a story I wrote in May of 1999 while covering BYU’s first NCAA men’s volleyball title.
Unfortunately, our online archives don’t go back that far. I know the lead was something about there being 10 million stories in the city of Los Angeles and the Cougars had just written themselves a good one after sweeping Long Beach State at Pauley Pavilion.
I also know our photographer, Jason Olson, had to run from the arena on UCLA’s campus to a drug store to get his photos developed into slides. The machine he used to transmit those slides back to Provo took about 10 minutes per photo.
Anyway, I did find the story I wrote when BYU repeated as national champions two years later, sweeping UCLA at Long Beach State’s Pyramid. The Cougars were terrific and dominated the Bruins at the end of each set to win the title. Later, during the post-game news conference, BYU coach Carl McGown was asked how he was going to celebrate and he joked, “I’m going to go out and get drunk.”
I’m not sure Director of Athletics Tom Holmoe, who was standing right next to McGown, found the comment to be as funny as I did.
By Darnell Dickson
The Daily Herald
LONG BEACH, Calif. — It wasn’t like BYU was oblivious to the hype surrounding the NCAA men’s volleyball championship match.
Especially the line that went “Upstart BYU against 18-time NCAA champion UCLA.”
That storied UCLA volleyball tradition?
The Cougars passed, set, blocked and spiked it all over the Pyramid arena floor.
Second-ranked BYU (23-4) dominated No. 1 UCLA 30-26, 30-26, 32-30 for the NCAA title Saturday, the first time in 55 Final Four matches that the Bruins had been swept.
On the third match point, UCLA setter Rich Nelson tried to dump the ball to BYU’s side of the court, but Joaquin Acosta was there to block the ball to the floor for the winning point.
“Actually, I was jumping on their middle,” Acosta said. “I was fortunate enough to be early and he (Nelson) dumped the ball right at me.”
But there was nothing fortunate about BYU’s stunning victory over UCLA. No luck; only terrific defense and an overpowering performance.
Final Four Most Outstanding Player Mike Wall did an impromptu swan dive off the press table into a sea of Cougar fans to cap a wild post-game celebration.
“I didn’t care much about UCLA’s history,” Wall said at the post-game press conference, then admitted to thumbing through the UCLA media guide earlier this week before realizing he didn’t want to read it anymore. “I wonder how many championships they won by intimidating the other team?”
BYU, which beat UCLA 3-1 in Provo in February, was not intimidated.
“We had a plan,” BYU coach Carl McGown said. “We served to it and we blocked to it. The guys played wonderfully well and it’s especially nice to do it against the team that everyone measures themselves against.”
Maybe BYU, which won its second NCAA title in three seasons, has created a new measuring stick.
All three games were close and neither team led by more than three points at any time during the match. UCLA was setting its middle hitters, Adam Naeve (16 kills) and Scott Morrow (14), very effectively. But BYU separated itself from UCLA by making key plays at the end of each game.
The score was tied 26-all in Game 1 when Acosta got a block, Wall served an ace and Scott Bunker blasted a kill for a 29-26 lead. A UCLA hitting error gave BYU the 30-26 victory.
The Cougars, who were 22-1 this season when winning Game 1, kept up the pressure with a close win in Game 2. BYU led 28-26 when Hector Lebron made a brilliant defensive save, then set up Acosta for a kill for a 29-26 lead.
Acosta’s serve was too hot to handle, and BYU won Game 2.
UCLA led Game 3 28-27 when Wall took over. The 6-foot-4 junior won a joust at the net and put down two heavy kills for a 29-28 BYU lead. UCLA fought off game point twice, but Acosta’s play at the net ended the night for UCLA.
“We played much better tonight than we did in February,” UCLA coach Al Scates said, “but they blocked better tonight. This is the best team BYU has ever had. The key for them is Joaquin Acosta, and Scott Bunker is the best blocker in the nation.”
Another hero for BYU was sophomore Luke Slabe. The 6-foot-1 Slovenian hit .667 (8 of 12 with no errors), served the ball hard and passed consistently.
“The coaches saw me serving well in warm-ups and put their trust in me,” Slabe said. “I didn’t play against Penn State very much, but tonight was my night.”
BYU held a 14.5-3 blocking advantage, led by Mac Wilson’s seven block assists. Wall led the Cougars offensively with 16 kills and Acosta added 11.
“When we lost in the semifinals of the MPSF tournament, maybe some coaches or teams thought we shouldn’t be here,” Acosta said. “We wanted to win and show we were the No. 1 team in the country. We did that.”