It was good for our guys to get that...it was important to finish what they started, and they did a good job there, for sure. —BYU coach Shawn Olmstead
PROVO — BYU fixed a lot of what went wrong in last Thursday's shocking home loss to Concordia Irvine, and just in time for senior night. The result was a straight set win over Grand Canyon (25-17, 25-17, 25-23), with a rousing haka performance part of the festivities to honor the seniors after the match concluded.
Although it was the seniors who were honored on Saturday, Gabi Garcia Fernandez, a freshman, led the way for the Cougars with a match-high 12 kills. Senior Brenden Sander contributed six kills, and seldom-used senior Christian Rupert went out with a bang, playing a big role at middle blocker and finishing with four kills and a match-high eight block assists.
Rupert was inserted into the lineup late in the first set with the Cougars holding a slight 17-15 lead. The senior came out strong and helped forge an 8-2 run to end the first set with a comfortable 25-17 margin.
"It was nice that Rupert got to get in there, and he works his tail off, as do all the seniors," said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. "It's important that we could honor them all tonight in certain situations and in certain times."
Senior libero Erik Sikes contributed well down the stretch, subbing in for Zach Hendrickson late to help his team finish out a tight third set.
Playing throughout the match, much as they've done throughout their careers, were Sander and senior setter Leo Durkin. Sander contributed three service aces to go along with his six kills and led the team with five digs. Durkin added four digs and 29 assists from his setter position.
Following the match, Olmstead spoke highly and emotionally regarding all his senior players.
"You look at the careers they've had, and those are phenomenal careers," Olmstead said. "It's something to be proud of for the rest of your life — to be a part of those teams. I don't know if I have the words adequate enough to talk about each of them individually they've meant the world to us and our program."
Not playing on senior night was middle blocker Price Jarman, who has been saddled with a hand injury, although he may return for the final stretch of the season and into the postseason.
As for the win, it came on the heels on one of the tougher losses of the season, last Thursday to Concordia Irvine, and Olmstead was happy with the progress made.
"It was good for our guys to get that," Olmstead said. "It was important to finish what they started, and they did a good job there, for sure."
Things don't get easy for the Cougars for the final two matches of the regular season, as they travel to take on Pepperdine and then UCLA next weekend. Those two matches will work to largely determine who hosts the MPSF Conference tournament, with the Cougars holding a two match lead over both the Bruins and the Waves.