PROVO — The standing-room-only crowd at the Smith Fieldhouse became deafening at times as the No. 3 BYU Cougars handed the No. 1 UC Irvine Anteaters their third consecutive loss Friday night, 3-1, in a match that was much closer than the final score indicated (25-20, 25-23, 19-25, 25-22).
In a matchup of schools with a combined six national championships since 1999, the teams were nearly deadlocked in every statistical category and each point was hard fought. The Cougars came out aggressive, which fueled the crowd of 5,000-plus, energizing both fans and players alike.
"It's unmatched in college volleyball," said head coach Chris McGown. "I can't say enough about being in the fieldhouse and the fan support. Every once in a while there is a timeout or a break and I'll look up and I just think, 'this is so much fun.' I'm just so glad for the guys that they have this kind of support and hopefully it's fun for the fans, because I think we did a nice job tonight."
One of the most demonstrative and energetic Cougars is sophomore Josue Rivera. To say the least, Rivera welcomes the electric vibe inside the Smith Fieldhouse.
"The reason he (Rivera) got the nod tonight was primarily because of his serving and the fire he brings," McGown said. "He brings a ton of energy, a ton of passion and we needed that. We have some guys that are a little smoothed out personality-wise, so it's fun to have him flying around being a spark plug for us."
The effects the crowd has on his team has not gone unnoticed by Rivera, who recorded 12 kills against the Anteaters .
"For sure it helps a lot," Rivera said. "On big plays you hear the crowd and it gives you energy to just rip the ball over the block or get up on defense. That helps for sure. Our crowd is the best. They are always here for us."
After a strong start — the home claimed the first two sets — BYU dropped the third set, leaving spectators uneasy due to the fact that the Cougars won their first two sets against Lewis last week before dropping three straight to lose their first match of the year. However, those anxieties would be eased Friday by a strong response from BYU in the deciding fourth set.
"We don't think about that," Rivera said of last week's collapse against Lewis. "We just come harder and keep it close and talk more. In the third game we (have) stopped talking in the past so we decided to play harder and talk more and stay together."
The extra effort and better communication wasn't lost on McGown.
"I was really impressed with us in the second (set)," McGown said. "We got down a little bit but we didn't press and didn't try to create points where they weren't. We just played solid volleyball with the understanding that that's all we need to do and points will start to come our way. I really liked our composure. That showed me a lot."
The win improves the Cougars' record to 4-1 on the year. They will welcome No. 13 UC San Diego into the Fieldhouse on Saturday night at 7 p.m.