Visits to Provo, Utah, have rarely been successful for UCLA men’s volleyball.
No. 3 UCLA men’s volleyball (15-5, 4-2 MPSF) was swept by No. 5 BYU (14-4, 7-0 MPSF) at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah. Its loss in conference play Saturday marked the ninth year straight that Bruins have lost in the mountains.
To start the match, the Bruins held the lead after the tie score at 2-2 and continued to hold a 1- to 2-point lead for most of the first set. At 12-12, BYU took its first lead through an attacking error from senior outside hitter Christian Hessenauer.
UCLA tied the game late in the set again with a Hessenauer kill over the BYU triple block. With the score 22-21, the Cougars had a hustle play on defense where they scrambled to return the ball. The following attacking error from junior outside hitter Dylan Missry gave BYU a 2-point advantage and UCLA failed to recover.
The Cougars took the first set 25-23 with a kill from outside hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez. A lofted arcing serve from UCLA freshman setter Alex Parks was quickly set to Fernandez on the right side, who hit a searing downward shot to the center of the UCLA side.
Sophomore middle blocker Daenan Gyimah said that the success of the BYU freshman was unexpected.
“He is a great attacker and he definitely hurt us.” Gyimah said. “That was actually sort of unexpected as we were game-planning for (outside hitter) Brenden Sander and I think we did a good job with him.”
Fernandez was effective throughout the first set, with arrowed sharp kills from the right side difficult for the Bruins’ defense to dig. He hit for .625 in the first set, with six kills. He would finish the match hitting for .348 with 12 kills.
“Yeah it’s difficult. (Fernandez) was hitting a lot of inside balls which we never really see on video,” Missry said. “So he did a good job of changing it up and hitting more lined hits than the video showed.”
The second set was as close as the first, with five lead changes. With the score at 18-17, the Cougars extended their lead to two through a flurry of digs from Missry, finishing with the junior outside hitter quickly dumping the ball to central space on the BYU side.
The Cougars took the second set through a defensive block from Sander, which spiralled out of reach of freshman libero Garland Peed in the corner of the side.
The Cougars had 4.5 blocks in the second set to the Bruins’ one. They finished with 10 blocks, almost doubling the Bruins’ 5.5.
Coach John Speraw said that the Bruins did not do enough to counteract the Cougar block, both on offense and matching them defensively.
“It’s a strength of theirs and something you just have to do real well when you play at altitude so it’s a focus for them every year and we just didn’t prolong rallies and play good enough volleyball to counteract that,” Speraw said. “That’s usually a strength of ours and it just wasn’t good enough tonight.”
Hitting troubles continued to hurt the Bruins, as they hit for .214 as a whole, while the Cougars hit for .318. The Bruins also finished with 19 attacking errors.
“They passed the ball really well just a lot more than we were and they just attacked the ball a lot better than we did,” Speraw said. “At every position, they hit for higher percentage, and we just really struggled to find any consistency on offense.”
With the Cougars one set away from a sweep, the third set was highly contested by both sides, as there were three lead changes and eight ties. With the score at 18-15, BYU extended its lead to four with a kill from middle blocker Miki Jauhiainen.
The BYU lead was never eclipsed in the late stages of the match. They took the match through Gyimah touching the net, winning their eighth straight game and ninth straight victory against the Bruins at home.
“It’s tough,” Speraw said. “I don’t know if I’ve won here in the last six years”.
UCLA will face No. 8 Pepperdine Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion to close this patch of conference play.