We were realistic. We just wanted to turn momentum, and that's exactly what we did. —BYU coach Shawn Olmstead
PROVO — The No. 6-ranked BYU men's volleyball team struggled as much as it has all season, before rebounding in dramatic fashion to close out visiting Stanford in five sets (23-25, 20-25, 25-14, 25-20, 15-12.)
The match featured a bit of everything for the 3,458 fans in attendance. BYU coach Shawn Olmstead emptying his bench, for starters, trying anything and everything to get his team going, and then an inspiring close, which had the Smith Fieldhouse as loud as it's ever been.
The Cougars weren't particularly sharp starting off play in the first set, but it got much worse in the second. A bevy of mishits, poor communication and otherwise sluggish play saw the Cardinal jump on top 19-9, with a typically raucous Smith Fieldhouse relatively silent and unsure of what they were seeing.
From there, Olmstead decided to change his lineup — inserting bench players such as freshman Felipe de Brito Ferreira, sophomore Wil Stanley, and 6-foot-11 sophomore Tanner Skabelund. The new group responded, rallying to cut the lead to 23-20 late, on the back of Skabelund's serving, although the hole dug proved to be too much, as Stanford came away with a 25-20 second set win.
"That gap in that second set — I knew we weren't going to win it, but what was important was to get some energy. Get some life, and make (Stanford) think it's not going to go as it's been going," Olmstead said. "That's really all we talked about in the timeouts. We were realistic. We just wanted to turn momentum, and that's exactly what we did."
Sure enough, the momentum established by the backup group carried into the third set, as just about everything ran smoothly throughout the third, a complete contrast to the first half of the second. The Cougars jumped on top 5-1 and then cruised to a 25-14 win, with Brenden Sander ending the set with a kill.
Sander continued his stellar closeouts in the fourth set, coming out of the back row to score two thunderous kills for the final two points of the set, giving the Cougars the fourth set 25-20. The Cougars separated themselves late in a fourth set that was tight, with neither team enjoying more than a three-point lead until BYU jumped out on top 23-19.
"Those were huge, and they sparked a lot of energy," Olmstead said. "It got fairly close in points so he dug deep."
The Cougars continued to make the Cardinal play from behind in the fifth set, jumping out on top 9-4, as the Smith Fieldhouse crowd proved as loud as it's been all year. Stanford wouldn't go away, however, and trimmed the lead to 11-9, before the Cougars closed out the set, and the match, ending it with a Stanford service error out of a final timeout taken.
Leading the way for the Cougars was Storm Fa'agata-Tufuga, who scored a team-high 16 kills on a .500 hitting percentage. Sander added 14 kills, with Price Jarman adding six. Stanford was led by Jaylen Jasper, and his game-high 18 kills.
"Storm was a huge spark for us off the bench. Huge. We needed him," Olmstead said. "He did an outstanding job there, for sure."
With the win BYU improves to 12-4 overall and 5-0 on MPSF Conference play. Next up are home matches against Pepperdine and then UCLA.