No. 3 BYU men’s volleyball had another setback Friday, falling in four sets (21-25, 25-15, 25-22, 28-26) to No. 5 UC Santa Barbara on the road.
“It was another match where we struggled offensively,” BYU head coach Chris McGown said. “It’s something we’ve got to get sorted out in the near future or it’s going to be tough for us."
Taylor Sander led the Cougars (18-7, 18-5 MPSF) with 15 kills and eight digs. Josue Rivera also had double-digit kills with 10 and recorded six blocks, a season high. Setter Tyler Heap had 37 assists, while middle blocker Devin Young led in service aces with a career-high five.
BYU got off to a slow start, falling behind 6-2 in the first set due to great hitting by UC Santa Barbara (17-8, 16-8 MPSF). The Cougars fell behind by as much as seven before a Heap kill launched a 4-0 run to cut the lead to 13-10. Gaucho errors tied the score at 14, and BYU took the lead on another attack error, turning the 4-0 run into a 9-1 run.
Ahead 16-14, Rivera threw down a pair of kills to push the lead to 18-15. BYU maintained at least a four-point lead until two kills by Sander finished off the set, 25-21.
UC Santa Barbara jumped ahead again in the second set, going ahead 3-0. A 7-1 run by the Gauchos put BYU down 12-5. Rivera stopped the run with a kill, helped out by Heap, but couldn’t spark the Cougars. UC Santa Barbara wrapped up the set on another 7-1 run for a 25-15 victory, tying up the overall score at 1-1.
Behind 8-4 to start the third set, BYU strung together three points with the help of a block by Young and Rivera. Young tied the set on a service ace at 10-10, but the Cougars couldn’t gain the advantage. Rivera and Heap combined for another block, tying the score at 15 and launching a series of eight ties. UC Santa Barbara broke out of the stalemate with the help of a kill and a BYU attack error. Gaucho Weston Nielsen’s kill ended the set, 25-22, in the Gauchos’ favor.
The teams were neck-and-neck at the beginning of the fourth set. Tied at 14, BYU allowed UC Santa Barbara three kills and an ace to get ahead 18-15. A kill from Sander and an ace from Young cut the Cougar deficit to 20-19. Michael Hatch, Matt Underwood and Rivera teamed up to block Gaucho Matt Hanley, tying the score at 23, and a UC Santa Barbara service error kept it tied at 24. BYU took an advantage at 26-25 off an error, but a kill by Gaucho Jonah Seif was followed by two Cougar attack errors to end the match.
"I really like the way we hung in there," McGown said. "We actually had a bunch of chances in the third set and in the fourth set to take it to a fifth. We just didn’t execute the swings we needed to, then down the road we made some unforced errors that aren’t terribly characteristic of our team."
BYU hasn’t lost more than two matches in a row since the 2011 season.
"We’re just looking to get it back together for tomorrow night," McGown said. "UCLA’s going to be great. We’re playing another team on another senior night, so they have all of this emotion going for them. It will be another test for us."
On Saturday, BYU plays at No. 10 UCLA in its final regular season match at 7 p.m. PDT. The Cougars need to win against the Bruins for sole ownership of the 2014 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title. BYU has already locked in the No. 1 seed for the MPSF tournament, due to owning the tie breaker against second-place Pepperdine. The Cougars will play the No. 8 seed at home April 19 in the MPSF quarterfinals.
Rachel Hawks is the men's volleyball sports information director for BYU Athletic Communications.