PROVO — Great teams have a habit of stepping up and playing their best when it matters most. Over three games, the BYU men's volleyball proved to be exactly that type of team in the MPSF tournament.
At the end of it all, the Cougars wrapped up the MPSF postseason title, their first since 2004, with a straight-set win over Long Beach State (28-26, 25-22, 25-22) on Saturday at the Smith Fieldhouse.
With the victory, the Cougars officially clinch a place in this weekend's Final Four in Los Angeles.
Against LBSU, freshman sensation Ben Patch again led the way for the Cougars with a match-high 18 kills, with Taylor Sander adding 15. The 49ers were led by Taylor Crabb and Dalton Ammerman, who had 16 and 13 kills, respectively.
BYU combined for a .346 hitting percentage and used a complete team effort to put away the stingy 49er squad.
“To have this happen to us and to go to the Final Four is such a blessing,” said Sander, who was named tournament MVP. “It’s been a fun road and we’re not done yet, so we’re going to keep working hard this week and go get that national championship.”
Long Beach didn't make it easy Saturday and enjoyed a lead in all three sets around the midway point. But each time it couldn't hold off BYU when it mattered most. The Cougars rallied from down 20-17 in the first set, 17-15 in the second and 17-14 in the third set.
The Cougars' ability to close out strong was not lost on Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe.
“At the crucial times of the match BYU executed,” Knipe said. “It wasn’t spectacular play, and it wasn’t a complete breakdown on our part. They just played better when they needed to win the set and when they needed to win the match.”
Sander closed out the first set with a service ace, and Patch closed out the final two sets with well-placed kills. However, while those two are the headliners it was a complete team effort and uncommon resiliency that earned the win.
“We stayed composed tonight as a team,” said middle blocker Devin Young, who finished with seven kills. “We never got discouraged. We came together and we really won this game as a team. We picked each other up, so when they made some runs we were able to come right back at them.”
The key was simply playing within themselves — something that coach Chris McGown has preached all year.
“We don’t try to elevate our game necessarily in these big moments,” McGown explained. “We just try to stay composed and be who we are. Who we are is this remarkably good volleyball team and who these guys are are remarkably good volleyball players individually."
McGown's remarkably good team will be the favorite this coming weekend in the NCAA Final Four, which will be held inside legendary Pauley Pavilion. The last time the Cougars made an appearance in the Final Four was in 2004. On that occasion, they were able to come away with a national championship.
Such parallels between this year's team and the 2004 squad have been drawn by the media and some fans, but certainly not by the team itself. The coaches and players are simply focused on what got them to this point in the first place.
"We’re just one step at a time now,” Young said. “We’ve just been focused on this tournament and now we’ll just focus on the next opponent.”
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