Comeback attempt not enough for No. 1 BYU

(Photo by BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

Malibu, Calif. - Despite coming back from an early 2-0 deficit, No. 1 BYU men’s volleyball fell in five sets in its first road match of the season at No. 5 Pepperdine (25-13, 25-22, 23-25, 22-25, 15-9).

“Pepperdine is a really good team,” BYU head coach Chris McGown said. “They made it difficult to get anything going offensively and they put a lot of pressure on us on the service line. I thought that was the biggest factor. We haven’t played at sea level in a long time and they had a great crowd.”

After struggling in the first two sets, the Cougars found their momentum and edged out the Waves in the next two to force a fifth set. The comeback wasn’t enough, though, as Pepperdine went on to win the deciding set, 15-9.

"We didn't play as clean in the fifth set but I was proud to see our team fight," McGown said. "We got worked in the first and then battled back. We had some good subs come in and help us in Andrew Heap and Michael Hatch."

The loss moves BYU’s record to 8-3 overall and 7-2 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Pepperdine improves to 7-4 overall and in MPSF play.

The Waves finished with 66 kills to the Cougars’ 45 while BYU had 16 total team blocks to Pepperdine's 15.

Freshman Ben Patch had a team-high 16 kills while adding six blocks. Junior Taylor Sander had 11 kills and eight digs while senior Russ Lavaja rounded out the trio of players with double-digit kills with 10. Lavaja led the team with a .471 clip and contributed seven blocks.

BYU and Pepperdine started off the first set with back and forth points before the Waves got some separation with four-straight points to take a 9-5 lead. The Cougars struggled to find their footing and the Waves took advantage, pulling ahead 18-12. BYU didn’t have an answer for Pepperdine as it rattled off a 7-0 run to take the 25-13 win.

The Cougars were plagued with errors in the first set with seven and hit a dismal -.048 while the Waves recorded a .600 clip. BYU finished the night hitting .231.

After a deadlock early in set two, BYU pulled ahead 9-7 but Pepperdine quickly worked its way back to tie the contest. After a kill by Sander pushed the Cougars in front 11-10, the Waves went on a 5-1 run to flip the score in their favor. Down 21-17, a Lavaja kill sparked a 5-0 BYU run to give the Cougars the lead. A Pepperdine service ace gave the home team set-point and the Waves went on to take the second set, 25-22.

Locked at 11-11 in set three, BYU moved in front by two points from Lavaja. Patch added to the run with two big kills for a 15-12 Cougar lead. Pepperdine closed the gap and took back the lead for the first time since early in the set but BYU rallied for another lead change before extending it to 23-21. BYU had two set-points before closing out the third, 25-23.

The Cougars posted three-straight points to break away from a tie to go up 12-9 in the fourth. Kills from Sander, Patch and Lavaja helped maintain the BYU lead as it moved ahead 17-12. The Waves switched the momentum back in their favor with a 5-0 run to close the gap and tie the score at 18. Three errors by Pepperdine set up BYU to take a 25-22 fourth set win.

In the deciding set, the Waves took an early 8-4 lead after several Cougar errors. Lavaja halted the run with a kill but it wasn’t enough as Pepperdine continued to dominate the net and pad its lead, 10-5. Back-to-back service aces from Matt West pushed the Waves ahead by seven but BYU cut into the lead, 13-8. Despite the late comeback attempt, the Cougars were unable to catch the Waves as Pepperdine captured the set and match.

"There were some really good things that happened but we always learn from our losses," McGown said. "For now, we're just trying to regroup and focus on tomorrow night."

BYU continues its stay on the road, facing off against No. 10 USC Saturday at 7 p.m. PST.
 

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