No. 2 BYU volleyball beat No. 9 UCLA, 3-1 (22-25, 25-22, 28-26, 25-21), on senior night to clinch a share of its second consecutive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season title Saturday night at the Smith Fieldhouse.
"I love to see the battle by our guys," head coach Chris McGown said. "We found ourselves a little bit down in the third, and I thought Taylor (Sander) took over the match from there. It was an unbelievable performance. I thought we kept our composure throughout the whole match. It was an absolute battle, but I thought the guys made smart plays and were fundamentally strong."
Sander led BYU (18-4, 18-2 MPSF) with 23 kills and three blocks. Josue Rivera had 11 kills, and Tim Dobbert contributed 10 kills and seven blocks, a new career-high. Devin Young had seven blocksm and Tyler Heap had 48 assists. Spencer Rowe and Gonzalo Quiroga led the Bruins (15-9, 12-8 MPSF) with 19 and 15 kills, respectively.
With the win, the Cougars clinch the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. With four conference games remaining, this is the earliest a team has claimed the MPSF Championship. The Cougars host their quarterfinal matchup in the conference tournament and should they advance, host the semifinals and championship as the highest remaining seed.
"That's a big win for us," Sander said. "I'd rather take a battle like that than an easy game. It is so fun when it's a closely contended game like that and the Smith Fieldhouse is loud. It's just so fun for us. It's a blessing to play here for sure."
Rivera‘s three kills helped the Cougars to a 6-3 lead in the fourth set, but Rowe had three kills of his own as UCLA clawed to an 11-10 advantage. With the set deadlocked at 14, Sander had four kills to push the Cougars to a 19-15 lead. The Bruins would make it interesting, but four service errors plagued UCLA as BYU took the set, 25-21.
BYU held a 9-6 lead in the first set, but UCLA went on a 13-3 run to seize a 19-12 advantage. Down 23-16, the Cougars scored five straight to pull within two at 23-21, highlighted by two service aces from Dobbert. The Bruins countered with a kill from Rowe and a block to win the first set, 25-22.
The teams exchanged points in the second set with neither team gaining an early advantage. The Cougars scored three straight to open up a lead at 15-11, behind a UCLA service error and a BYU block. Kills by Sander, Rivera and Dobbert paced the Cougars to a 21-17 advantage. Michael Hatch contributed two kills down the stretch to lead BYU to a 25-22 victory in the second set.
BYU battled to a 13-11 lead in the third set, with Rivera and Dobbert each contributing kills in that stretch. UCLA used a 6-1 run to gain a three-point cushion at 17-14, but Sander would score the next six BYU points with four kills, a block and an ace to cut the deficit to one at 22-21. Tied at 23, a kill from Dobbert gave the Cougars their first set point opportunity. After BYU failed to convert on three set-point chances, Sander’s kill finished the set, 28-26.
The Cougars honored Young, Sander and Nick Valencia in a pre-game ceremony and recognized them with their families for senior night.
BYU returns to action next weekend as the team travels to Hawai'i to take on the Warriors on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. HST. Both matches will have audio streaming through NBC Sports Radio Hawai'i, and Saturday's match can be seen streaming live on OCSports.tv.
Justin Green is the SID over men's track and cross country for BYU Athletic Communications as well as BYU Rugby. He is a BYU student majoring in public relations and minoring in business and will graduate in April 2014. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org