PROVO — What a difference a month can make.
The No. 9-ranked BYU men's volleyball team took down No. 6 Pepperdine on Saturday in four sets (28-26, 27-25, 22-25, 26-24), two nights after staging a thrilling comeback win over No. 4 UCLA. The two wins served as an indicator that the Cougars can again compete with the nation's best, which works in stark contrast to where the team was a month ago.
Early February saw the Cougars head out on the road and come home with frustrating results, which included beatdowns at both Pepperdine and at UCLA. While BYU managed to take the Bruins to four sets before taking the loss, the Waves swept the Cougars in dominating fashion back on February 6 (25-17, 25-19, 25-18.)
On Saturday, it was a much different story.
Backed by what most consider the top home court advantage in the country, the Cougars proved competitive throughout, able to close out tight sets with strong execution during key moments.
Leading the way for the Cougars was again Gabi Garcia Fernandez, who scored 20 kills on a .305 hitting percentage, with Davide Gardini adding 17 kills on a .353 hitting percentage. Garcia also added nine block assists, which added nicely to Felipe de Brito Ferreira's match-leading 13.
Indeed it was the BYU block that proved perhaps most effective in scoring the tight overall advantage on Saturday, with the Cougars outblocking the Waves 18.5-7.5.
Also playing big was freshman third-string setter Brody Earnest, who was again called upon to handle the load at the critical position with starter Wil Stanley and backup Cyrus Fa'alogo both nursing lower leg injuries.
"Brody came in and did a great job, and I'm so proud of him," Fernandez said to BYUtv following the match. "He was one of the new guys, and he came from the dark side, working hard every day to be in the spotlight. ... Brody is going to do what Brody does."
The 'dark side' refers to a secondary practice court, away from where the regulars practice against one another, with several of those participating on the dark side never seeing regular playing time from year to year.
For the match Earnest contributed 40 assists while making a strong bid to remain in the mix, even when both Stanley and Fa'alogo return to action.
As the score indicates, the match was extremely tight throughout.1 comment on this story
Neither team enjoyed more than a three-point lead until the Cougars broke free to lead 10-6 in the fourth set. That lead went to 11-6, with the Cougars seemingly poised to close out with a relatively comfortable margin until the Waves slowly worked their way back, finally catching the home team at 16-16.
The Cougars managed to close things out, however, with a win that put them in second place in the MPSF standings, a spot some wouldn't have considered possible a month ago.
With the win BYU improves to 11-6 overall and 6-3 in MPSF Conference play. Next up is a bit of a break from MPSF play for the Cougars, as they host both Princeton and McKendree University next Thursday and Friday before taking on No. 2 Hawaii at home on March 23.