PROVO Third-ranked BYU took its first postseason step toward a national men's volleyball title as the Cougars downed defending NCAA champion UC Irvine in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament quarterfinals Saturday night.
Seeded second in the tourney, BYU (24-4) blitzed eighth-ranked and seventh-seeded UCI (16-15) in the first two games and eked out the decisive fourth game for the 30-20, 30-22, 28-30, 30-28 victory, avenging Irvine's elimination of BYU in last year's MPSF semifinals.
Next up for the Cougars is Thursday's semifinals top seed Long Beach State is hosting the semis and finals to face fourth-ranked CS Northridge (23-6), which swept Stanford in their quarterfinal.
BYU has an eye on the two top prizes the MPSF Tournament championship and the accompanying automatic NCAA Final Four berth. They're something the Cougars haven't claimed since 2004, their most-recent national championship season.
"Actually, we've never passed the semifinals ever since I've been here," said senior outside hitter Ivan Perez of his Cougar senior class of '08.
Hitting .406 while unleashing some of his most powerful kills of the season, Perez finished with a match-high 19 kills and 12 digs for his ninth double-double of the year.
But it was far from a solo showing, as fellow outside Andrew Stewart added 12 kills on .455 hitting, opposite Jonathan Charette 11 kills and middle blocker Russell Holmes 10 kills at a .500 clip.
For the match, BYU hit .364 with 14.5 blocks well above the Anteaters' .193 and five blocks. Stewart assisted on eight blocks, Holmes added a solo and seven assists and Trent Sorensen helped on six.
BYU hit a blistering .517 and .556 in the first two games and was near the .500 clip in the third en route to a 28-25 lead, needing just two points for the three-set sweep.
But it didn't come, as UCI won the game with five straight points, forcing the fourth.
"We played great and had a lot of energy we were in cruise control," said Perez, musing that perhaps the Cougars thought they had the Anteaters down. "They weren't they're a national championship team."
With UCI finally adjusting to high-altitude serving, BYU managed a meager .088 hitting in the fourth and rallied from a 25-23 deficit to win the set and match.
"Somehow we just found ways to score points," said head coach Shawn Patchell, who was succinct in his post-match review with the Cougars.
"I told them they played great for two sets and 28 points," he said, adding "they need to play under pressure a little better."
Jon Steller and Taylor Wilson led UCI with 12 kills each.
Earlier Saturday, Perez and Holmes were named to the All-MPSF first team, with Sorensen earning honorable-mention honors.
3 COUGARS HONORED: The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation announced that BYU's Russell Holmes and Ivan Perez earned All-MPSF First Team accolades and senior Trent Sorensen was awarded with an All-MPSF Honorable Mention.Holmes currently ranks third in the nation in blocking average (1.50) and fifth in the nation in hitting percentage (.461). He is a two- time All-America selection and three-time All-MPSF honoree. Perez leads the Cougars with an average of 4.29 kills per game and currently ranks 12th in the nation in that category. Perez is a two- time All-America selection as well and has received All-MPSF status all four years of his collegiate career. Sorensen makes his first appearance on the All-MPSF list. He is currently 16th in the country in blocking average (1.25) and is a team captain this season.