Josue Rivera led No. 4 BYU men’s volleyball to victory against No. 5 USC on Saturday, pulling off a season-high 15 kills in the 3-2 (16-25, 25-22, 15-25, 25-20, 15-10) road contest.
It was a strange match, rhythmically," BYU head coach Chris McGown said. "We alternated playing very well and very poorly. We managed to find a way to grind out a win, and it was a real testament to the work ethic of the guys."
Rivera hit .370 on the night, also adding eight digs and three blocks. Senior Taylor Sander contributed 14 kills and eight digs, helped out by Tyler Heap’s 41 assists. Heap also set a career high in blocks with five to lead the Cougars (7-3, 7-1 MPSF).
BYU out-blocked the Trojans (5-3, 4-3 MPSF), 13.5-12, to make up for losing the kills battle, 63-50.
Down 2-1 in the overall score, BYU fell behind 5-1 in the fourth set but inched back on a 4-1 run. Carson Heninger tied the score at 10 on an ace. A Heap and Hatch block put the Cougars ahead for the first time in the set, 13-12, and Heninger followed up with a kill.
Sander shut down a long rally with an attack USC couldn’t return to put BYU ahead 22-18. A Trojan service error put BYU in set-point position, setting up Michael Hatch and Heninger to take the set, 25-20, on a block.
The Cougars and Trojans started the fifth set neck-and-neck until a Heninger kill launched a 5-0 run. Rivera and Devin Young blocked USC’s Cristian Rivera for the 8-3 BYU lead. The Cougars held on to take the set on a Trojan attack error, 15-10.
"I thought we finally got a handle on the game plan and started executing that a little bit better toward the end of the match, and I thought that was big for us," McGown said. "We finally got in some of the right spots, started making some blocks, started making some digs."
BYU came out slow to start the match, with USC taking control of the first set, 11-8, and quickly increasing that to 15-10. The Cougars couldn’t come up with a response and let the Trojans run away with a 25-16 win.
In the second set, the Cougars got off to a 3-1 start with the help of back-to-back kills by Young. USC tied up the score, 4-4, launching a series of six ties before BYU strung together a kill and a block to go up 11-9. Three Trojan attack errors increased the Cougar lead to 14-0.
After leading by as many as six points, BYU allowed USC to get back in the game down the stretch. A USC block cut the lead to 23-22, but Sander held off the Trojans on a kill, and Heninger came up with a solo block to end the second set, 25-22.
USC broke away from an early 4-4 tie to take a 12-7 lead in the third set. A 4-0 Trojan run put USC ahead, 16-8, and BYU couldn’t recover, dropping the set 25-15.
The Cougars head to Riverside, Calif., for a match against Cal Baptist on Monday at 7 p.m. PST to finish off this road trip, then take the rest of the week off. After that, BYU’s next match is at Pacific on Feb. 14.
"I think the single biggest focus for me is can we get some rest on Sunday, and regenerate and recuperate some energy, and then be able to bring 100 percent of it to the match on Monday," McGown said. "Cal Baptist is a good team, so we’re going to have to play hard and we’re going to have to play clean to win."
Rachel Hawks is the men's volleyball sports information director for BYU Athletic Communications.