The pin-hitting duo of Gabi Garcia Fernandez and Brenden Sander helped No. 7 BYU men’s volleyball past No. 14 USC in four sets (25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 27-25) Saturday night at the Galen Center to begin Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.
“This was an important win for us as we start conference play,” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We stayed composed when USC went on some runs, and we were able to close out some close sets. I liked the team effort we showed tonight.”
Sander led the Cougars with a career-high 23 kills on a .372 clip to go with a career-high five service aces (good for sixth-most in BYU rally-scoring era history). Fernandez contributed 18 kills on a .441 clip and six digs while Leo Durkin had a season-high 54 assists to go with eight digs. Also in the defensive effort, Erik Sikes collected a team-high nine digs and Price Jarman added four blocks.
Three kills from Fernandez helped BYU (8-4, 1-0 MPSF) take a 5-3 advantage over USC (4-8, 1-1 MPSF) early in the first set. The Trojans then began to pick things up offensively, going on a 7-1 run to pull ahead 11-7. A Sander kill brought the Cougars back within a point, down 16-15, before a Miki Jauhiainen, Storm Fa’agata-Tufuga and Fernandez block pushed BYU ahead 19-18. USC responded, however, by scoring the next three-straight points to take a 21-19 advantage. In turn, the Cougars rallied to eventually take the close set, 25-23, after kills by Fa’agata-Tufuga and Fernandez.
BYU gave the Trojans six of their first eight points from service errors in the second set as the score was tied 8-8 early on. USC then went on a 6-1 run, which included three aces, to take a 13-9 lead and force the Cougars to take a timeout. The Trojans led by as many as five at 17-12 before a pair of kills from Sander helped BYU on a 4-0 rally to get within one, trailing 17-16. Another Sander kill made it 19-19, but USC responded with a 6-2 run to win the set, 25-21.
Back-to-back blocks from Jarman put the Cougars up 4-3 to start the third set. The Trojans evened the set at 7-7, but BYU scored four-straight points to go up 11-7. USC got back within a point, down 13-12, but a kill and block from Andrew Lincoln helped push the Cougars back in front by four, 16-12. The Trojans then countered by scoring five of the next six points to tie the set at 17-apiece. The score remained tied at 20-20 and 23-23 before a USC service error and Sander kill gave BYU the set, 25-23.
A Jarman ace put the Cougars in front, 7-5, in the fourth set. BYU stayed ahead at 15-13 following a Sander kill. The Trojans eventually took a timeout trailing 17-14 after a Sander ace. Two more consecutive aces from Sander made it 20-14, but USC rallied to tie the set, 21-21, after a 7-1 run. The Cougars stayed focused, however, as BYU took the set and match in extra points, 27-25, after two final kills from Sander.
The Cougars stay on the road next, traveling to No. 10 Grand Canyon for the first time in program history Thursday, Feb. 15, at 6 p.m. MST. A video stream and live stats will be available for the match.
Royce Hinton is the men's and women's volleyball sports information director for BYU Athletic Communications.