This post was updated May 4 at 12:27 a.m.
Grant Maleski had only entered the game once before the final point.
With the score at 24-19, the freshman outside hitter and opposite hammered a serve through the BYU back row to take the Bruins one game away from claiming their 20th national championship.
“The young kid has got no fear,” said coach John Speraw. “I mean why not? He’s been serving great in practice so I figured what the heck and it worked pretty well.”
UCLA men’s volleyball (26-7, 10-3 MPSF) beat No. 2 seed BYU (22-6, 10-3) in four sets Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion, with scores of 25-22, 24-26, 29-27 and 25-19.
The Bruins took the first set 25-22 hitting for .500 as a team and logging 15 kills. Senior outside hitter Christian Hessenauer led the scoring with six kills on a .286 hitting percentage. Hessenauer finished leading UCLA with 14 kills on a .103 percentage. The Bruins and the Cougars both had sideout percentages over 70 percent, with neither team scoring more than 3 points in a row in the first set.
With 2.81 blocks per set, BYU ranked second in the nation in blocking before the match. However, the Cougars entered 2-5 when outblocked by their opponent and the Bruins outblocked the Cougars 7.5 to 4.5 in the first two sets, finishing the match with 12 compared to 7.5.
The Bruins’ middle blockers, sophomore Daenan Gyimah and redshirt senior Oliver Martin, contributed seven kills in the first two sets, with junior setter Micah Ma’a continuing to direct sets through the middle. Gyimah finished the match behind Hessenauer with 13 kills, a hitting percentage of .750 and three aces.
BYU outside hitter Cyrus Fa’alogo had contributed seven kills and left the court injured with the score 19-19 in the second set. Fa’alogo collapsed holding both legs and had to be carried to the bench by his teammates.
Fa’alogo was replaced by Storm Fa’agata-Tufuga and the Cougars continued to pressure the Bruins from the left side, with Fa’agata-Tufuga logging seven kills in just over one set.
“It’s always tough to see a guy go down,” Ma’a said. “That team actually is the most adaptable in that position. What helps is we have seen them before. But yeah, (Fa’agata-Tufuga) came in and he was hot. They gave him more balls than we thought.”
UCLA took the third set 29-27 after Maleski entered the set with the score at 26-26 and sent an ace serve off the hands of the Cougar back row and into the crowd that gave the Bruins a 1-point edge.
BYU opposite Gabi Garcia Fernandez led the Cougars in scoring from right side. The AVCA Newcomer of the Year had 19 kills during the match, hitting for .366. Senior Jake Arnitz said the freshman is a constant challenge to match up against.
“(Garcia Fernandez) is a great player,” Arnitz said. “He can serve the ball like no one else can really in our conference. He gets up there consistently and can rip the ball at 70-plus. I think that’s pretty rare and he’s going to be scary later on in college.”
This win marks the first time UCLA advanced to the national championship final since its 2006 defeat of Penn State.
No. 1 seed Long Beach State defeated Ohio State in four sets in the other semifinal. The Bruins will return to Pauley Pavilion 4 p.m. Saturday to face the 49ers.
“We are going to be playing for a national title,” Speraw said. “I can hardly believe it. We get to do it in our own house against a great team.”