PROVO — The No. 2-ranked BYU men’s volleyball team needed a few extra points to finish off rival UCLA in the opening set of Thursday night’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opener. The Cougars made up for lost time later.
Gabi Garcia Fernandez had 13 kills and three aces, and Davide Gardini added 11 kills as BYU held off an early challenge before sweeping the rival Bruins, 31-29, 25-12, 25-23 in the Smith Fieldhouse.
Felipe de Brito Ferreira added four kills and six blocks for the Cougars, who got 33 assists, three digs, two blocks and three kills on a perfect 1.000 hitting percentage from Wil Stanley.
“It’s easy when you have Davide, Felipe and Gabi on the court at the same time,” said Stanley, who guided BYU to an 11-0 start, its best since 2012. “I don’t realize all the time what we have on our side of the court. It’s pretty special, and it doesn’t come around very often.
“You don’t want to leave everybody out.”
Zach Eschenburg supplied seven kills and a team-high five digs for BYU, which held the Bruins to .367 or worse hitting in all three sets for the latest in a series where titles and NCAA bids have been decided recently.
“BYU-UCLA has always been entertaining, high-level volleyball,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. “How many times have these matches come down to No. 1 and No. 2 teams? It’s been that way since before I was playing with this team.
“It’s our own little rivalry. Our guys are ready to go for this match.”
Cole Ketryzynski had 11 kills to lead No. 7-ranked UCLA, and Mads Kyed Jensen dished out 27 assists. But the Bruins (5-4, 0-1 MPSF) were hurt by 18 service errors with just one ace, and couldn’t recover.
“We know when they come to Provo, they are going to come with a little bit extra. But I think they know that we are going to do the same thing.
“They’re UCLA, and I think that just comes from playing them every year, twice a year, always at the end of the year. That’s a good UCLA team, and we had a good night tonight.”
BYU led from the outset, and took a 15-13 into a break shortly after the Bruins smacked their fifth service error midway through the first set. UCLA briefly tied the match at 20-20, and never let the Cougars lead by more than a point until tying it at 25-all on Jensen’s kill.
That forced extra points, with the Bruins unable to sustain a lengthy rally due to poor serving, and Fernandez put the opener away, 31-29 — with a little help from 10 service errors by the Bruins.
“They came out firing, and we knew it would happen,” Stanley said. “Their setter ran a really good offense in that first set. But we’re always a good team at adapting, seeing what they are bringing, and being able to adjust and change in the next set.”
BYU raced out a 15-8 lead in the second set on Gardini’s kill, and held the Bruins to a negative-.067 hitting percentage, or four kills and five errors on 15 attempts, while hitting .714 itself.
Fernandez had four kills, an ace and a block in the second set, and the rout was on in a historically tight series between two of the top men’s volleyball programs on the West Coast.
The Cougars improved to 37-34 all-time against the Bruins, including a 9-3 mark under Olmstead that includes a perfect 7-0 mark in Provo.
But the most important number is one — as in, 1-0 in MPSF play.
“This is the start of another phase. We told them that; it’s conference play,” Olmstead said. “Of course, it’s better to start 1-0 than 0-1 — and I’m happy for the guys in that sense.”
BYU continues MPSF play Saturday against No. 8 Pepperdine. First serve is scheduled for 5 p.m. MST in the Smith Fieldhouse, and will be broadcast on BYUtv.