For a brief time Friday night, life was a beach for the BYU women's volleyball team.
The sixth-ranked Cougars scored the first 10 points of the first game against Long Beach State - rated No. 1 in one poll and No. 2 in another - and it looked like an upset in the making.As it turned out, the Cougars' explosive start was only a mirage.
While BYU wound up winning that opening contest, the visiting 49ers doused any hopes for a Cougar celebration by rallying for a 8-15, 15-5, 15-8, 15-9 victory before 3,045 fans at the Smith Fieldhouse.
In the process, the 49ers handed BYU its first defeat and claimed the BYU Invitational championship. They improved to 5-0 while the Cougars fell to 5-1.
"The difference was experience," said BYU coach Elaine Michaelis. "They're a very experienced team and have great leadership on the court. The confidence was just exuding from them. They have great senior leadership."
BYU, on the other hand, is inexperienced, especially in the middle, where All-America Amy Steele Gant once roamed. Gant now plays for the U.S. National team and the Cougars could have used her Friday night. Freshman Nina Puikkonen, and sophomore Melissa Layton acquitted themselves well at the middle blocker position but couldn't eclipse the performance of Long Beach State's veterans.
Once Long Beach State shook off a woeful performance at the outset of the match, it lived up to its billing and looked like a squad in mid-season form. Senior setter Misty May, last year's national player of the year, collected a game-high 52 assists. May did a little bit of everything and delivered a nearly flawless performance in the final three games.
The Cougars have a star of their own in senior hitter Korie Rogers, who turned in a solid outing, recording 10 kills. But she sensed a collapse soon after the Cougars jumped out to the 10-0 lead.
"The second we made one mistake, we just dropped," Rogers said. "You can't let a team like that in the door. We had confidence, but we got scared when we made a mistake."
"The confidence factor was there," Michaelis said. "We found out that was a pretty good team we were playing, and we starting asking ourselves, `How good are we?' We are a legitimate top 10 team, and with confidence and experience, we will improve."
Chances are, this won't be the last time BYU and Long Beach State meet this season. The two schools could be headed on a collision course for a rematch in the NCAAs.
Next weekend, BYU hosts its own Mizuno Classic and will meet Texas Tech, Northern Illinois and Central Michigan.