PROVO — There’s no place quite like home for the BYU men’s volleyball team.
In front of a typically raucous and packed Smith Fieldhouse crowd, the Cougars took down No. 1-ranked Long Beach in four sets (25-20, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20) Saturday night.
Despite a home basketball game being played on campus at the same time, BYU fans showed up in droves and the team responded with its best performance of the early season.
“It’s a whole different deal when we’re here at home and you could just feel it again,” said BYU coach Chris McGown. “I thought we had great energy and really played together as a team. Everybody did their job and worked really hard.”
Leading the way for the Cougars was Taylor Sander, who both started and ended the scoring for his team with two well-placed kills. The All-American finished with a game-high 24 kills (on a .362 hitting percentage) and 11 digs — season highs.
“He made some amazing plays — as usual — and he was just real steady,” McGown said. “He always has to take some difficult swings for us and he served the ball very well. I think we passed the ball really well, as a group, and he was a big part of that.”
Key contributions were also made by Josue Rivera, who finished with eight kills, and Matt Underwood with seven. Perhaps the biggest contributions — other than Sander's — came from middle blocker Devin Young, who finished with seven kills and eight blocks, and setter Tyler Heap, who set career highs in digs (11), assists (47) and blocks (4).
Long Beach was led by Taylor Crabb and his team-high 22 kills and nine digs.
The Cougars established early leads in the first, third and fourth sets and kept the 49ers at bay with crisp serving and receiving, which set up prime kill and block opportunities. Overall, BYU outblocked Long Beach 11-6.5 and connected on 36.2 percent of its kills to Long Beach’s 26.0.
“I think that was mostly a function of us winning the serve and receive battle,” McGown said. “I think we served really well and got them into some difficult swings. And our block has always been pretty good, but more than anything I think it was them having to take some tough swings.”
The win gives BYU two victories in two nights to follow up two rough road losses to start the year. Overall, coaches and players were happy with the progress while remaining cognizant of the need to keep getting better.
“We still have things to work on, so we won’t let that we just beat the No. 1 team get to our heads,” said Young. “It was great to see our improvement from last week and this was a big win for us and we’ll try to use this momentum and get even better next week.”
“It’s neat to see where we were last week and where we are this week and how the team is coming together,” McGown added. “The chemistry is starting to build and our play has cleaned up way more than where we were at last week.”
With the win, BYU moves to 2-2 on the year and will next travel to take on defending NCAA champion Cal Irvine on Friday, Jan. 19.
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