Nobody’s season was likely to end after Saturday night’s showdown between UCLA men’s volleyball and BYU in Provo, Utah, but that doesn’t make the result much more palatable for the Bruins.
No. 1-seed BYU (26-3) continued its dominant year – dominance that included a trio of four-set wins over No. 2-seed UCLA (25-6) – in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match, gaining an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament with a commanding win (25-20, 25-19, 18-25, 25-15).
Despite the loss, though, the Bruins are all but guaranteed to gain an at-large bid to the national tournament, with either the Long Beach State 49ers or the Stanford Cardinal likely to gain the other spot.
UCLA’s greatest weakness Saturday night was something that had been one of its biggest strengths throughout the 2016 season: serving. The visitors amassed a season-high 27 serving errors compared to just nine from the host school. While a significant error total is nothing new – the Bruins entered the match averaging about 4.5 per set – the team had just a single ace in the championship match.
That disparity hurt UCLA’s chance at an upset bid, despite a higher hitting percentage, along with more total kills and blocks.
In the end, sloppiness simply did the Bruins in.
Sophomore outside attacker JT Hatch had a team-high 13 kills and three other players reached double digits. Freshman setter/hitter Micah Ma’a and junior setter Hagen Smith combined for 50 set assists, but that offensive production only got the team so far.
The first two sets of the night were all BYU, as the Cougars jumped out to leads that they wouldn’t relinquish. Sophomore outside hitter Brenden Sander and sophomore opposite Ben Patch combined to total 25 kills, guiding the home team.
The Bruins managed to turn things around – albeit, temporarily – in the third set, capturing a set victory just as they had in the two prior matches against the Cougars this season. That brief lapse in control reenergized BYU and the team regained its momentum in a thunderous final set.
It was the third MPSF championship in four years for BYU, while the loss extended UCLA’s now-decade-long spell without a conference championship. That 2006 Bruin team pulled off upset after upset in the MPSF tournament before eventually capturing the national title, too.
NCAA Tournament selections will be announced Sunday.