No. 5 BYU men’s volleyball fell just short to No. 6 UC Irvine in five sets (25-16, 24-26, 25-18, 21-25, 15-13) Saturday night at the Bren Events Center.
“It took too long for us to get going tonight and UC Irvine capitalized,” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “I liked our fight in the fifth set, and I'm proud of the guys for that.”
Brenden Sander led the Cougars with 16 kills to go with a team-high six digs while Gabi Garcia Fernandez added 13 kills. Leo Durkin contributed 30 assists and Wil Stanley had 18. Storm Fa’agata-Tufuga chipped in 10 kills and Price Jarman collected five blocks and seven kills.
UC Irvine (9-1) jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead in the decisive fifth set after six kills. After a BYU (5-3) timeout, kills by Sander and Miki Jauhiainen brought the Cougars within two, down 8-6. A Sander ace capped off a 4-1 BYU run to bring the Cougars within a point, trailing 11-10. A Fernandez kill evened the set at 13-all, but the Anteaters scored the next two points to close out the set and match, 15-13.
Jarman picked up the first point of the first set for BYU, but UC Irvine scored the next six-straight points to go up 6-1. An ace and kill from Fernandez helped the Cougars on a 4-1 run to get back within four, trailing 11-7. The Anteaters countered with a 4-1 rally of their own to go back up by seven, 17-10, forcing a BYU timeout along the way. The Cougars couldn’t find a way to slow down UC Irvine’s offense as the Anteaters picked up a 25-16 set win.
A block from Andrew Lincoln and Jarman helped BYU take a 7-6 advantage to begin the second set. A 4-1 Cougar run ensued, allowing BYU to take a 13-11 lead following a Sander kill. A block from Fernandez and Jauhiainen pushed the lead to three, 17-14, forcing a timeout from UC Irvine. Another Cougar block made it 20-14, but the Anteaters scored five straight to get back within one, down 20-19. Back-to-back kills by Fa’agata-Tufuga increased BYU’s lead back to three, 23-20, and two errors from UC Irvine gave the Cougars the set, 26-24.
The Anteaters used an 11-2 run to start the third set to go up 11-4. Two kills from Fa’agata-Tufuga then pushed BYU back within six, trailing 16-10. UC Irvine attack errors helped the Cougars get within four, down 18-14, but that was as close as BYU got as the Anteaters took the set, 25-18.
An ace from Fernandez helped the Cougars go up 7-5 in the fourth set. A Jarman and Fa’agata-Tufuga block helped BYU keep its lead at 14-12, and a Fernandez kill made it 22-19. UC Irvine scored the next two points to make it a one-point set, 22-21, but the Cougars followed with three points, including a Jauhiainen ace, to secure the fourth-set win 25-21, sending the match to the decisive fifth set.
The Cougars return to the Smith Fieldhouse next, facing UC Santa Barbara for a pair of matches beginning Friday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m. MST. The match will be televised live on BYUtv and live stats will be available.
Royce Hinton is the men's and women's volleyball sports information director for BYU Athletic Communications.