There’s quite a few matches today. Instead of trying to run them all down myself, I’ll link to the very fine Off the Block blog (one dedicated solely to coverage of the men’s game) and their scoreboard page. I’ll discuss the week that was when new polls come out, just as I customarily did during women’s season, but in terms of getting tonight’s news now, you’ll probably get it better there than here.
The MPSF opener tonight (no other match this evening was a conference match) was, as noted, BYU vs. Hawaii. BYU are a team that can harbor realistic national championship aspirations. They were picked second in the preseason MPSF poll, which also happened to make them #2 in the national poll. Yeah. The MPSF’s pretty strong. Hawaii were near the bottom of the MPSF poll, came in after a long plane ride from the islands, and arrived to 20-degree weather in Provo. Not the best of conditions for them.
I’ve already run down the impact players for these teams in recent posts, so let’s just get to the match rundown. The match started with an odd little stalemate, as there were no real rallies on any of the first four points. An easy kill, a service error, a quick net violation, and another service error. Couldn’t help but notice that absolutely everybody was jump-serving. I guess that’s commonplace in the men’s game (no doubt I am, as most volleyball fans, more familiar with the women’s game).Stud freshman Ben Patch started off a coming-out-party of a night with a big right-side kill in the first to bring it to 3-2. Patch’s serve resulted in a Hawaii overpass, and an easy kill for Russ Lavaja. By the way, it was indeed the returning senior Ryan Boyce doing the setting duties for the Cougars. Phil Fuchs came up big from the left side for BYU to extend to 5-2, but Hawaii hung tough at first, rallying to knot the set at seven.
Taylor Sander got his first kill of the season at 8-7, right off the middle blocker’s cranium. Sander showed good hustle on the next ball, tracking down the ball in Hawaii’s court after an overpass, but he was unable to legally play it back around the antenna to BYU’s side. Nice point on 9-8, as Sander’s huge jump-serve got Hawaii out of system, but they still got a couple of good attacks in. Their attempt at a soft shot went wide, with good judgment from the Cougar back row player who could have gotten it but correctly elected not to, to give the point to BYU. Patch made it look way too easy against the single blocker on the right side, to bring it to 11-9. Hawaii’s Jace Olsen had a difficult match but an especially difficult first set, being blocked on the right side the first of many times tonight to make it 13-10. This was the biggest lead of the set to that point despite the rally starting on a really terrible serve from Patch. Jump-float would be a kind way to describe it. But he and Sander formed an awesome 1-2 punch, especially when both were in the front row on opposite pins. Automatic timeout on the floor at 15-12.
Sander powered through a triple block on first point back from the timeout, to make it 16-12 as BYU began to take control. Overpass on Hawaii side leads to easy joust win for middle blocker Devin Young. Hawaii took timeout there.
Their struggles continued coming back, with the fourth hitting error of the set for Olsen, though it was on the setter as much as him. Patch’s fifth kill on six wings brought it to 19-13, and this was as impressive any, flying in from the back row. 19-15 was the longest rally of the match, as Hawaii’s heavy hitter JP Marks perhaps inadvertently saved a ball that was headed out (for a BYU attack error), with the Cougars eventually winning the point. Hawaii badly overloaded the left side of the court on 20-15. When Young went up for a joust on that side, there was only one player on the right side, giving him the easiest cross-court kill you could ever want. Hawaii took their second timeout here. A gruesome hitting error, sixth of the set, for Hawaii on 22-16 as Sinisa Zarkovic went for a softy but the ball didn’t come close to clearing the net. Sander from center-back brought the Cougars to set point, with Patch at the service line. He uncorked one long, but Hawaii gave it back to end the set 25-18.
BYU out-killed Hawaii 16-9 in set 1, and outhit them .500 to .120. Kinda tells the story
BYU changed up their rotation a little for set 2, reasonable considering it’s the first match of the year. Michael Hatch subbed in for Young, and contributed to an early triple-block on the left side. Lavaja reacted well to a fast-developing play leaving him slightly out of position to join the left-side for a nice double block to make it 4-2 BYU. And geeze Sander jumps high. The BYU commentators noted that even with Sander in back-row rotations, you don’t have to change the offense much. You can still give him a set that is very similar to a front-row attack set.
Miscue for BYU on 5-3 as they got a ball that should have been easy to keep alive, but after it deflected off the front-line block the back row player was unable to catch up to it. BYU maintained their 2-point lead until Sander’s 7th kill of the match came on their serve to put them up 9-6. Marks’ right-side hit went into the antenna to make it 10-6 BYU. Patch kept up the pressure, getting his 7th kill from just inside the left pin, to make it 11-7 Cougars. At 11-9, Hawaii were forced to send over one of the first freeballs I can remember in the match. Great quickness on defense from BYU, but it was not rewarded, as Olsen made it through the left-side block to draw the Warriors back within a point. I thought maybe BYU would call time there, but they didn’t.
On a big serve from Davis Holt, wearing #24 instead of the #18 he bears on the Hawaii website, BYU were left out of system to give Hawaii a relatively easy point to knot it back up. Hawaii continued to feed Olsen, but he proved hit-or-miss, with his 7th hitting error to match 7 kills to make it 14-12. The elastic perhaps snapped, as from that 12-all tie Hawaii would never again draw even. Fuchs’ fifth kill on no errors got it to the automatic timeout at 15-12 — same score as the auto timeout in set 1.
At 16-14, Patch and the libero Jaylen Reyes (interestingly enough, a Honolulu boy) ran into each other. They got the ball to Sander, who got blocked on the left side once, but Boyce went back to him a second time, and I don’t think Sander’s the sort of player to get rejected more than once. At 18-15, BYU had to frantically stab at the ball to keep it alive. Hawaii protested that they should have been called for four hits, but no such call came. BYU took the point with a right-side block from Sander — off his face. Hawaii called time trailing 20-15.
Fuchs’ perfect night continued with a sixth kill on ten errorless swings to put BYU up 22-18. This came on a downright brilliant service reception from Sander, where he had to make a desperate stab at a ball and wound up making a perfect pass. With a miscommunication on the Hawaii side, Fuchs had a wide open net on the next point to put the Cougars up four, prompting the Warriors’ second timeout. Fuchs finally was blocked for the first time of the evening, with Marks contributing to a right-side double block, drawing Hawaii within three at 23-20. Patch brought BYU to set point with his eighth kill of the match. He went to the service line up 24-20. Marks saved the first for Hawaii, then headed to the service line himself. He promptly let loose the first ace of the night for either side to make it 24-22. BYU took their first timeout of the set (and indeed, match) right after. Sander, working on a perfect night himself, ended the set on the first ball back from the timeout 25-22.
Kills were close to even in set 2, with Hawaii actually holding a small advantage 13-12, but BYU were still much more efficient hitting.
Sander’s soft shot from the left-side on 3-2 in set 3 confounded the Hawaii libero Kolby Kanetake. He dove for the ball as if to go for a pancake save, but the ball hit him in the elbow. He may have underestimated his own speed. Regrettably for the Warriors, it wasn’t kept alive. The Cougars established a two-point lead at 5-3, and then ran out to 8-4 following a Warrior hitting error (their 16th of the night) into the antenna and then a right-side double block. At 8-5 Cougars, Josue Rivera hit over a triple-block for a kill, and the frustration became evident on the Hawaii players’ faces. A glitch on the BYU website kept me from seeing exactly how they ran out to 12-6, but no doubt it was sterling front-line play.
Hawaii found a small answer in Holt, with three kills in the roughly-first half of the set, the third bringing them back within 4 at 13-9. But Sander answered with a vengeance on the left side, his 14th kill. Young and Sander followed with a double block to re-establish the 6-point lead at 15-9 and the automatic timeout. Sander got BYU’s first ace of the match to put them up 17-10 at Hawaii’s timeout. The advantage held pretty steady from there, to the 25-17 final.
#2 BYU d. Hawaii (25-18, 25-22, 25-17)
This may have actually been the first time I’ve ever watched a men’s volleyball match straight through from first serve to match point. It was an interesting little introduction, because it sure is different in feel from the women’s game. Hawaii hit just .101 for the match. Olsen led them with 10 kills, but he also had 11 errors, to go negative .034. Sander was 14/1/24, for .542. A fine first night a the office for him, and with Patch showing well in the opener (he did fade a bit as the match went on, to end at 8/5/18, for .167) they could be a fearsome one-two punch.
BYU showed some nice depth in the match, with at least three players rotating through at every position except setter but including libero (wait….what? More on that in a separate post). It’s gonna take them a little while to find out what the right combination is, but now’s the time to be experimenting — against a relatively weak team (they play Hawaii again tomorrow, in a match that is not televised — and I say televised even though it’s a webcast because it’s TV-quality). They play two matches against MIVA favorites Lewis next week (awesomely, both of those matches are televised, as well as the Jan 18 match with UC Irvine….it may look like I’m favoring BYU but if so, it’s only because of their awesome web coverage).
After this match ended, I switched over to Pacific vs. George Mason. The match was held at Pacific, and the coverage was better than nothing, but really only by default. It had just a single stationary camera, well back from the court (you’d call the seat nosebleed section). The stream did have a commentator, thank god, but without familiarity with those players it’s hard to say anything about the match. Maybe rope a kid from the A/V Club in to run the camera? Zoom it in and move it around? That would be a big help.
All in all, looks like we’re in for a heck of a men’s volleyball season. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter in the story is.