PROVO — The top-ranked BYU volleyball team opened up the first of a two-match series with No. 12 Cal Baptist in dominating fashion Friday, winning in straight sets (25-13, 25-21, 25-20).
Coming off a physically demanding weekend of action against UC Irvine, BYU head coach Chris McGown was anxious to see how his squad would react.
“I’m always curious to see how we come out on these Friday nights at home,” McGown said. “We didn’t have a great week of practice. I think we were a little emotionally and physically beat up from the Irvine match coming out of that weekend, and it’s like OK, here we go again. We had some ugly practices, so I wasn’t sure how we would start.
"But we came out blazing.”
The Lancers didn’t put up much of a fight in the first set on the way to a 12-point shellacking, spearheaded by BYU's Taylor Sander, who had six kills.
“They weren’t playing like they could in the first set and we were. We were able to put a pretty good gap on them, but we played even better the next two sets. We were great offensively all night long. I’d like to be a little better defensively. We did hold them to a pretty low hitting percentage, but there were a lot of points we could have turned,” McGown said.
“(Sander) has had some uncharacteristically poor matches recently. He did a really nice job tonight not trying to overdo it, I thought. He was hitting balls in smart spots and was playing like he can, and the fact that he passed well and played good defense really helped us a lot tonight.”
Sander’s power has been a dominant force for the Cougars and his touch around the net is starting to catch up with his natural talent.
“When the ball's not there to be hit hard, (the coaches) just want me to be creative with it,” Sander said. “That’s something with my game that I’ve worked on, just the beach shots and taking something off of it and trying to find some open areas. But when it’s definitely a good set and there is no good block up, I think hitting hard is the best thing to do.”
It may have been an ugly week of practice physically and emotionally for McGown’s team, but inspiration was found from another athlete in a totally different sport.
“(BYU senior) Ryan Boyce sent around a video about Kurt Warner and his experience as an NFL player. He talked about when he went to Arizona how he wanted them (opposing teams) to know what it was like to play the best. We talk about in practice that if we want other teams to know what it’s like to play the best, we have to give a national championship-type effort. We want them to come to our gym and see what the best looks like,” McGown said.
The story may have come from an unlikely place, but the one sharing it is one Cougar fans are familiar with.
“He’s the guy (Boyce) that’s flying around in practice. There will be a ball that everyone thinks is going out of bounds and he’ll go crashing into the video guys to get it,” McGown said. “He’s giving the best physical effort every day and the other guys see that, so when he asks something of them they know it’s coming from a place where he’s established that leadership and he’s established his credentials with those guys. It’s the ultimate credibility that he has because he works so hard every day.”
The Cal Baptist Lancers will get a shot at revenge Saturday night at the Smith Fieldhouse as the rematch gets underway at 7 p.m.