They're the #1 team in the country for a reason. After a slow start, BYU dug itself out of a big hole to beat the UCLA Bruins in the MPSF tournament semifinals, 23-25, 21-25, 25-18, 26-24, 15-10.
Things looked dire for the top-ranked BYU Cougars tonight. Neither the player of the year, Taylor Sander, nor the newcomer of the year, Ben Patch, were playing particularly well as UCLA took the first two sets in the best of five match. Third hitting option, Josue Rivera, was having a banner night but without Patch or Sander playing well it was not enough to hold off the Bruins in those first two sets.
BYU came out firing in the third set and won that one handily, but then the Cougars stunk the joint up to start the fourth set. A series of gaffes by BYU allowed UCLA to jump out to a seemingly insurmountable 7-1 lead in the set. In rally scoring a 7-1 lead is normally a death sentence for the team down six.
But a funny thing happened on the way to BYU rolling over and quitting.
Down by six in the fourth set, BYU head coach Chris McGown decided something had to change. So McGown subbed out his starting setter, Ryan Boyce, and replaced him with backup setter Tyler Heap. It worked. BYU immediately went on an astonishing 7-1 run of their own and tied the set up at 8-8. From there the set was neck and neck until BYU finally got to a 25-24 set point. At that point a tremendous spike from Ben Patch gave the Cougs the improbable set win, setting up the decisive fifth set.
The Bruins hung tight in the fifth set for a while but some world class serving and hitting from BYU's superstar Taylor Sander allowed the Cougars to pulled away to win the set 15-10 and secure the match 3-2.
The crowd of more than 3,000 fans at the Smith Fieldhouse was raucous as BYU treated them to one of the most exciting volleyball matches of the year. The victory for BYU sends the Cougars to the MPSF title game against Long Beach State on Saturday evening at home.
While BYU was already virtually a lock for the NCAA tournament next week, the Cougars had extra incentive to beat UCLA because the NCAA tournament will be held on UCLA's campus. Keeping the Bruins out of that NCAA final four means BYU won't have to beat UCLA on their home court to win a national championship.
Another national title is certainly not in the bag for BYU yet. The Cougars must win two matches against two very good teams next week to do that. But if the BYU team we saw in the final three sets tonight shows up next week, BYU's odds of getting that fourth national title look good.
Long Beach State 3, UC Irvine 2 - At Provo, Taylor Crabb had a match-high 23 kills along with 11 digs and seven blocks as the fourth-seeded 49ers took their first win in four meetings with the Anteaters, 25-22, 22-25, 20-25, 25-15, 22-20 to advance to the MPSF final on Saturday.
The 22-20 fifth set was the third-longest fifth set in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament history.
Ian Satterfield added 11 kills for Long Beach, which got 10 kills from Colten Echave and 11 blocks from Taylor Gregory. The Niners (24-7) dominated at the net, finishing with a season-best 19 blocks.
Connor Olbright dealt 55 assists, eight digs and five blocks for Long Beach, which hit .289 as a team to UCI's .214 hitting percentage.
Kyle Russell led the Anteaters (23-7) with 17 kills and 14 digs, and Zack La Cavera added 13 kills.