PROVO — First-round tournament matches for No. 1 seeds are often assumed to be a breeze, but that was hardly the case for the BYU men’s volleyball team in its thrilling five-set win against No. 8-seeded Hawaii (25-19, 20-25, 22-25, 25-12, 15-13) in the first round of the MPSF playoffs Saturday. The game featured a bit of everything, from fast starts, resilient comebacks and some big calls from the chair — some of which sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
Fortunately, for the Cougars, the final big call went their way.
With BYU up 14-13 in the fifth set, the Warriors were called for an illegal attack at the net, which was deemed the correct call by both coaching staffs. The decision gave BYU the deciding set, 15-13, and sent the Cougars to the MPSF conference semifinals.
“We didn’t have some calls go for us early ... but I felt that was the right call there at the end,” said BYU coach Chris McGown. “The first round of the playoffs is hard and that first match, when guys are in the middle of finals and we have so much going on ... thank goodness we had a wonderful crowd behind us and it was as loud as I’ve heard it in (the Smith Fieldhouse.)”
BYU jumped on Hawaii early — scoring the first six points of the first set before cruising to a relatively easy 25-19 victory. Taylor Sander and Ben Patch led the way for the Cougars in the set with five kills apiece.
From that point the Warriors settled down, made some key adjustments and took the next two sets.
Sedore Brook led the comeback effort with nine kills combined in the second and third sets with Taylor Averill adding six. The Cougars saw their stellar .684 first-set hitting percentage plummet to just .160 in the second set and .269 in the third.
“You have to give Hawaii a lot of credit for coming back like that,” said senior middle blocker Russ Lavaja. “They changed a lot of things up that we didn’t adjust to very well and just came at us with everything they had. They’re a great team and we knew they’d be a challenge.”
Despite being down 2-1, the Cougars didn’t panic and just got back to what they do best in the fourth set.
“We had smiles on our faces and just said, ‘We have some work ahead of us, don’t we?’” said McGown of his team‘s mentality entering the fourth. “I think the guys just did well showing poise, like they have all year. Things went our way early on. ... We just got back to playing like we know we can.”
The Cougars upped their hitting percentage to .409 to Hawaii’s abysmal .038 in the fourth set.
BYU got off to an early lead in the fifth set, but Hawaii kept it close and stayed within two points until the final point.
“It was fun and we stayed loose and I think that was the difference for us in the fourth set and into the fifth set,” Lavaja said. “I think it’s going to be good for us to be taken to the end like that. These playoffs aren’t going to be easy. We know that. But I think we did well in getting through a tough spot and we’ll be better for it.”
Freshman Patch led the way for the Cougars with a game-high 25 kills with Sander adding 13. Devin Young stepped up big off the bench and led the team with six blocks.
With the win BYU advances to the MPSF semifinals where it will square off against UCLA this Thursday at the Smith Fieldhouse.