PROVO — With the preseason behind it, the No. 1-ranked BYU men's volleyball team perhaps got a taste of what's ahead of it in the Mountain-Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), falling to No. 11-ranked Stanford in five sets (25-18, 19-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-11) on Friday.
It's rare for the Cougars to lose to anyone, no matter the rank, at the Smith Fieldhouse, which was a testament to just how tough Stanford proved to be in the first match of back-to-back contests.
"They were better than us. They beat us and hat's off to them for coming in here and doing that," said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. "But we let them off the hook when we had a chance to close them out."
BYU's inability to close out was perhaps most apparent in the fifth and final set.
The Cougars led out well enough, grabbing an early 4-1 lead before the Cardinal started chipping away at the lead. Those chips eventually gave way to a decisive 6-1 run by Stanford to close out the set and the match.
"We didn't play well when we needed to play well. That's the bottom line," Olmstead said. "We let them out. We let them off the hook."
Each team traded relatively easy wins in the first and second sets — Stanford taking the first 25-18 with BYU winning the second 25-19. But things tightened considerably from there.
The Cougars led for most of the third set, finding themselves with four set points toward the end, leading 24-19. But the Cardinal made them use all of them. Four straight points by Stanford closed the lead to 24-23 before Brendan Sander closed things out with a kill to put the Cougars up two sets to one.
The fourth set was tight throughout with neither team enjoying more than a 1-point lead for most of the set, until Stanford closed things out with two straight points to win 25-23.
As mentioned, the Cougars led out early in the final set, but had trouble blocking Stanford outside hitter Madison Hayden, who proved dominant down the stretch and finished with a match-high 24 kills.
"He just chopped away. That's all he did," Olmstead said of Hayden. "Unfortunately, I thought we had a good game plan, but we didn't adjust. We didn't get in the right spot and he just kept chopping."
BYU was led by Ben Patch and his 20 kills, while Jake Langlois and Brendan Sander each added 11.
The Cougars led in most statistical categories despite the loss, but were done in, quite severely, by committing 19 service errors. Ironically, serving was a big emphasis for Olmstead leading up to Friday's match.
With the loss the Cougars fall to 2-1 overall and 0-1 in MPSF play. They'll have a chance to rebound Saturday night against the same Cardinal team. Olmstead, while disappointed in the loss, is optimistic his team can turn things around.
"You got to just stay the course," Olmstead said. "I told the guys, 'We're not going to do anything different" and we have a routine to cool down we're going to stick to it and we've got to come back."