Here’s the first BYU webcast in what seems like an eternity. Three weeks, actually. They return home after their first jaunt on the road took them to Pepperdine and USC, falling to the former and defeating the latter. In that last webcast match, middle blocker Russ Lavaja sustained an ankle injury that kept him out of action for two matches. This is his third match back, having played in the two road contests a week ago. Also in events of last week, Devin Young performed sufficiently poorly that he was benched in favor of Michael Hatch at middle blocker for the USC match, and Hatch was again named the starter for tonight. BYU enter tonight’s match having never lost to Pacific at home, just 5 times ever, and in last the last 16 matches between the two sides, the Cougars have dropped only 2 sets. Pacific are led by fifth-year senior outside hitter Taylor Hughes, and by libero Javier Caceres. We don’t talk about liberos much in the men’s game, but Caceres is a standout, one that will probably get All-American consideration. He leads the MPSF in digs per set this season, as do Pacific as a team.
The first few points of the match were defensive, with service errors on both sides and a block for BYU on the left side. Finally, Pacific setter Patrick Tunnell scored a kill at 3-2, the first “offensive” point of the match. On the next ball, Tommy Carmody, sporting a full face guard, came up with the middle block to draw the set even. Then when Carmody rotated to the service line, the Tigers came up with a big stuff block against Lavaja, an uncharacteristic error for the BYU big man. At 6-6, Hughes scored such an emphatic kill that the ball bounced back over the net and appeared alive for a moment. The Tigers celebrated, but Tunnell to his credit remained alert and played the ball as it came back (the whistle quickly followed).
Pacific took an 8-6 edge with another middle block, from Christian Ahlin. Taylor Sander brought the match even at 9 with an ace and then let loose another nice serve to get the Tigers out of system leading to a block at 10-9. The Cougars went up 12-10 on a play with Josue Rivera taking a left-side joust. Pacific came even again at 12, but with their fifth service error of the set already, BYU went ahead again. Tenacious blocking led to Sander being called for a lift that knotted the set at 14. A kill for Ben Patch gave the Cougars the slenderest of leads at the media timeout.
BYU next went up two at 17-15 on a long rally ending with a weird Ryan Boyce block on a Pacific attempt at a roll shot. The Cougars took the next point to take the first three-point lead for either side to that point. Just as quickly, Pacific burned their second timeout, after BYU took the first two points back from the first, to go up 20-15. When Pacific took the next two, BYU took their first timeout, making it four timeouts (including the media timeout) within the last nine rallies. Stop-start volleyball sucks. The Cougars reached set point at 24-20 with their sixth block of the set (to five for Pacific). A Tiger hitting error put BYU up a set to nil.
With 11 blocks between the two sides, hitting percentages in set 1 were gnarly — .214 for BYU, just .133 for Pacific.
Devin Young entered the match to start set 2, and immediately made his presence felt with a kill from the middle. At 1-all, Rivera scored a weird kill where just fisted the ball flatfooted from the far sideline. It fell in, somehow. It was mostly sideout volleyball to begin set 2. BYU went up 2 for the first time at 5-3 after a bad hitting error from Hughes — having angle wide open, he tried to hit line and the ball landed well wide. At 5-5, Caceres came up with a great up on a swing from Lavaja, as the ball came right to the numbers on his chest. On BYU’s next swing, it rebounded off his head — a little harder to dig that — and out. As the set wore on, the commentators mentioned the shiner that Boyce was bearing (plainly visible in a pre-match interview). Apparently he and Lavaja collided during the Pepperdine match last week. Lavaja, the far larger of the two, was unhurt, but Boyce came away with a nice war wound.
The set proceeded quite evenly. BYU went up three for the first time at 13-10 on a Taylor Hughes hitting error, leaving him hitting zero for the match. Pacific took a charged timeout at that point, negating the media timeout. At 16-13, Ryan Boyce dislocated a finger on a block attempt. With the rally still going, he darted to the bench where the training staff just popped it back into place. He then ran back on. Didn’t miss a freaking point. Holy crap. There was a timeout on the floor called by BYU at 17-15 in their favor. Boyce came back on the court with his fourth and fifth fingers on his right hand taped together. How can you set like that?
Pacific hung tough, coming back to tie the set at 18, though BYU just as quickly reasserted their lead with a couple of Taylor Sander kills and a middle block to go up 21-18. The lead extended to four at 22-18, and held mostly steady to the finish at 25-20 again. Pacific’s offensive efficiency plummeted even further in set 2, to .074. BYU’s was a comparatively stellar .280 (still well below where they normally are).
Pacific brought in a new setter for set 3, Brazilian freshman Marco Grasso. He started at the service line — and promptly jump-floated his only attempt into the net. Sander followed with an ace, and then an error of his own. Finally, on 2-1, a rally was played, which revealed that BYU likewise went to a new setter, Tyler Heap, as he set the kill. Behind Patch, whose name I really should have been using more in this rundown, BYU took and maintained an early 3-point lead, starting from 5-2. A block ruled out — which replays showed to be in — put BYU up 8-4, and then at 9-4 Pacific called time.
A Tiger miscommunication on the first ball back from the timeout, as no one jumped for the set, resulted in them sending over a free ball. BYU returned a successful kill to go up six, and then seven before Pacific finally sided out at 11-5. Pacific’s Matthew Houlihan came up with a nice left-side block against Patch to make it 12-6, and then served the ball about 8 feet long when he rotated back. That sent Sander back to the service line, and his third ace of the match put BYU up eight. After a timeout, BYU’s lead extended to 10 at 18-8, and it was time for the fat lady to warm up the vocal cords.
#2 BYU d. #14 Pacific (25-20, 25-20, 25-15)
BYU coach Chris McGown had said as the teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime that he wanted to see his men execute better on offense as the match went forward, and not rely so much on Tiger errors. Well, job done.
BYUTV’s sideline reporter said he had found out that Boyce’s finger injury was not serious and that he sat out set 3 mostly just as a precaution. It makes for an interesting decision for tomorrow’s match as a solidly better opponent in Stanford come in to Provo tomorrow night. The set with Heap running the offense was the biggest win for BYU. I have to imagine Boyce gets the starting nod, but he may not have a very long leash.
Pacific wound up out-blocking BYU 11 to 9.5 for the match, but the Tigers hit a moribund .133 for the match. Simply put, they did not play like they had any business to contend in the match. (At least not on offense) So, they quite appropriately didn’t contend. Pacific are reeling, with this constituting their fourth straight loss to fall to 5-7 on the year. It was their only match of the week. Their next contest is March 1 against Pepperdine.