PROVO — The top-ranked BYU volleyball team was dealt a blow from No. 7 Stanford, losing at home in four sets (25-21, 20-25, 25-20, 25-18) Friday night.
The biggest blow for the team, however, may have come exactly one week before the match during a practice session.
Star outside hitter Taylor Sander broke a bone in his hand by running into one of his teammates during practice drills, according to coach Chris McGown.
He'll be out 4-6 weeks, during which time the Cougars will try to find more continuity and spark than they did Friday.
The Cardinal jumped on the Cougars early, taking a 3-1 lead in the third set and never yielding that lead, though BYU made a late run.
Stanford's attack was precise, leading to a .531 kill percentage to BYU's .387. They were led by Brad Lawson, who tallied seven kills.
"I think it was hard for us to find a rhythm," said McGown. "I think we passed OK, but at other times not so good, so we were having to take some tough swings and it's hard when you can't find a rhythm with the setter to get into a flow in the match."
BYU fared much better in the second set, led by Futi Tavana and his four kills. The second set was tightly contested, with neither team able to build more than a two-point lead before BYU outscored Stanford 8-3 to close out the set 25-20.
"We served a bit better I thought," said McGown. "We got them out of their system a bit more and kind of got in a rhythm and felt better about ourselves, but I think it was mostly because of our serving."
The final two sets went much like the first as the Cougars lacked the rhythm they briefly found during the second. Their attack lacked pop, as evidenced by their paltry sub-.200 kill percentage in both the third and fourth sets.
A big issue was Stanford being able to home in on outside hitter Rob Stowell throughout the match without having to account for the big-hitting Sander on the other side. BYU has some good backups for their star player, but without the duel threat of Stowell and Sander on the outside, the quality of attempted kills suffered.
"Clearly great teams have great players and when you're down a great player then it's hard to fill that void," said McGown. "We're doing the best that we can with the guys we've got and it's different not having (Sander) in the lineup — it changes the way that we do things and it changes the way teams have to defend us, so they can be better against us defensively. … I thought Stanford played really, really good volleyball — they have some great athletes on that team."
A boost to the team came in the middle with the return of middle blocker Tavana, who sat out the first part of the season with a knee injury. Tavana led the Cougars in kills with 13 and in blocks with six.
"I think that if you talk to (Tavana) that he'd tell you that he's not 100 percent, but he's certainly most of the way there," said McGown. "He had a great night tonight and he's certainly worked hard to get back to the shape that he's in. It's going to be about a month or so and he's going to be 100 percent."
With the loss BYU falls to 6-2 on the year and will take on Stanford again tonight in the Smith Fieldhouse.
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