PROVO — Home sweet home.
Those three words are what the BYU volleyball team is grateful for after the Cougars took down the third-ranked UC Irivne Anteaters in the Smith Fieldhouse Friday night.
The Cougars bounced back from a tough first set on their way to a four-set victory over the Anteaters (20-25, 25-17, 32-30, 25-19).
BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said the Cougars' ability to serve and pass was critical in the win.
“That alone, you could see, really kept us in the match," Olmstead said. "There were times this season where that’s where things have gotten away from us. We’ve allowed teams to go on some runs and haven’t been able to stop it early. But we were able to do that tonight.”
BYU kept the score close throughout much of the first set, but UC Irvine would pull away at the end to take set one, 25-20. The Anteaters controlled sides of play in the first set, torching the BYU defense with a .522 hitting percentage while limiting the Cougars to just .200.
In the second set, with the score tied 4-4, Gabi Garcia Fernandez and Felipe de Brito Ferreira had back-to-back kills and a Garcia Fernandez ace gave the Cougars a 7-4 lead. From there, BYU never looked back and rode the momentum of the Smith Fieldhouse crowd to extend their second-set lead to 14-8.
The Anteaters were never able to cut the Cougar lead to less than six as BYU kept the momentum rolling to tie the match at one set apiece.
BYU's Davide Gardini recorded seven kills and Garcia Fernandez added six for the Cougars in the second set. BYU flipped the script in the second set and posted a .467 hitting percentage while limiting UC Irvine to just .238.
“Davide has shown a lot of consistency for us in trouble, in key moments,” Olmstead said of the freshman opposite hitter. “He did a really nice job.”
Gardini would finish the game with 21 kills and a .444 hitting percentage for the Cougars.
Trailing 12-10 in the third set, the Cougars used a quick 4-0 run to jump ahead. UC Irvine would tie up the score a few minutes later before Gardini answered again for BYU. The freshman hammered back-to-back kills to give the Cougars a 20-18 lead.
The Anteaters would answer, though, coming right back with a 5-2 run of their own to give themselves a 23-22 lead late in the third set. After trading scores, the Anteaters were only one point away from taking a 2-1 lead in the match.
But that’s when the Cougar faithful would come alive again. The noisy BYU crowd helped force three UC Irvine service errors late in the set and the Cougars put the Anteaters away, 32-30.
“A lot of credit to the environment, the noise,” Olmstead said, thanking the crowd for helping his team during that stretch. “That does something for our guys and gets after the opponents a little bit.
“It’s the best crowd in the country, and it showed itself, even on a stormy evening.”
BYU got off to a quick start in set four, thanks to a couple of kills from de Brito Ferreira. A few minutes later, a Garcia Fernandez kill and errors on the part of UC Irvine gave the Cougars a 12-7 lead.
BYU would lead by as much as seven in the set before an Anteater would cut the margin down to four. The Cougar defense would respond, and a block from multiple defenders would give BYU a 22-17 advantage.
A couple of kills from Gardini and Garcia Fernandez gave the Cougars their first match-point at 24-18 before Garcia Fernandez floated the last point over the Anteater defenders for the victory. Garcia Fernandez finished with 23 kills and 2.5 blocks to lead BYU in the win.
The Cougars will host the Anteaters again Saturday night at 7 p.m. The match will be streamed live on TheW.tv.