It was a season when nothing seemed to be going right for the BYU men’s volleyball team -- and only received a brief respite at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, which it won. But, on Thursday, May 1 the Cougars finally watched their luck run out as they lost to Stanford three games to two at the NCAA Championships.
What seemed like a certain repeat run to the national championship game for BYU (22-9) now will end like this regular season ended -- with a loss. As a matter of fact, the Cougars ended their regular season with three losses, but after a march at the MPSF tournament that included a championship win you can forgive BYU fans for being optimistic after sweeping Stanford.
My, how much things can change in less than one week, as the Cougars again faced Stanford after receiving a No. 2 seed and bye into the national semifinal. Unfortunately for BYU, this match was much different from the Cougars‘ convincing MPSF title game sweep, as Stanford came out guns a-blazing, hitting on 68 percent of its shots for a 25-18 win in Game 1.
Games two and three looked more like textbook BYU, as the Cougars rode senior All-American and American Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Year Taylor Sander as far as they could to take a 2-1 advantage going into Game 4.
But in Game 4, you saw the Cardinal mettle, as they climbed back from an early deficit, Before the fourth game evened out and each team traded leads, Stanford got a kill and an ace to win a pivotal Game 4 by the narrowest of margins, 29-27.
“We were doing so many things well and just (had) a couple of errors. We served two balls out in the 20s and then there was a play where we actually got a pretty good touch on a block and the ball just kind of popped up right between two players and it was one of those ‘I go, no you go,’ and we kind of botched that play and made a bad set to put it over and that’s all it takes,” BYU head coach Chris McGown said at his post-game press conference.
BYU’s miscommunication in Game 4 brought both teams to Game 5, another seesaw battle that saw BYU go up 4-2 early before Stanford took the lead at 10-9 -- with the first team to 15 points deciding who goes to the national championship game.
Stanford surged ahead to 12-9 and BYU fought back -- but ultimately the Cardinal would go home the victors, winning Game 5 by the score of 15-12 and moving on to the national championship game.
“We are clearly disappointed with the result. We did everything we possible could and played as hard as we could. Ultimately, they got a few plays that went there way and I thought they played great as well. It’s easy to have a few plays go your way when you are playing as well as they did. I thought they came in with a good offensive game plan and executed it really well,” McCown added at his post-game press conference.
For BYU, AVCA Player of the Year Taylor Sander led the Cougars with 28 kills -- one short of a career best for him -- and four aces. Josue Rivera helped the Cougars with 10 kills and 11 digs. For Sander, the loss was of course bittersweet despite such a great personal season.
“It’s so hard losing and it’s so hard for my career at BYU to be done,” Sander said after the match. “The hardest part is not [in] losing that match, it’s that I don’t get to battle with my boys anymore, going to battle with them every match.”