PROVO — The BYU men's volleyball team punched its ticket to the MPSF semifinals by defeating feisty Long Beach State in a five-set thriller (25-23, 25-14, 20-25, 21-25, 15-7) Saturday. The win keeps BYU's national championship hopes alive.
BYU seemed in control and on its way to a 3-set sweep, closing out the second set with a 12-2 scoring run and all the momentum, but Long Beach wasn't done. The 49ers took advantage of some subpar play from the Cougars in set three before taking a hotly contested set four to force the tiebreaker.
"We knew that Long Beach State would give us everything they had — that's a great team that we were fortunate to beat tonight," said BYU senior setter Joe Kauliakamoa. "I think we just got too relaxed after the second set and that happens to everyone. We just lost our focus and made too many mistakes while Long Beach played great."
Kauliakamoa and his teammates found themselves in a situation all too familiar entering the huddle after dropping the fourth set. As big favorites last season, BYU dropped its opening round match to UC Santa Barbara in five sets.
Anxious not to have history repeat itself, the Cougars stormed to a quick 8-1 lead, regaining the momentum they lost through the two middle sets.
"When we were in the huddle all of us seniors just looked at each other and told everyone to stay positive and just to visualize positive things," said Kauliakamoa. "We just thought about all the hard work and the great moments we've had and were determined not to finish our careers with a loss on our home floor."
Kauliakamoa and his teammates evidently learned its lesson well from a season ago, eventually taking the fifth set 15-7. The 49ers didn't quit, however, coming back to pull within six at 12-7 before Taylor Sander took the serve and finished them off with three straight points.
Sander led the Cougars with 22 kills, while Robb Stowell added 14. Futi Tavana contributed 15 blocks and a career-high 13 block assists, and Kauliakamoa contributed 52 assists.
Following the match the four seniors – Kauliakamoa, Stowell, Tavana and Quinten Smith – jumped up on to the scorers' table to wave to fans, showing thanks for their support.
"It's hard not to get emotional with all we've been through here at BYU — in front of our fans who are the best fans in the country," said Kauliakamoa. "They were incredible tonight, helping to lift us up, and we'll miss this crowd a lot and our time here."
BYU moves on to the semifinals to take on Stanford on Thursday night. The match will be played at USC's Galen Center, as will the MPSF finals which take place on Saturday.