Cougars clinch league title, automatic NCAA bid

(Photo by BYU Photo/Jonathan Hardy)

PROVO, Utah—Ben Patch’s 18 kills helped the BYU men’s volleyball team claw through a grueling three-set victory (28-26, 25-22, 25-22) to take the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament title Saturday at the Smith Fieldhouse.

“I thought it was a really well-played match by both teams and a lot of clean high-quality volleyball," BYU head coach Chris McGown said. “We’ve told our guys all season long that there are no little things and matches can turn on one or two points and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”

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Patch hit .394 and was aided by tournament MVP Taylor Sander’s 15 kills. Young had seven kills on a team-high .700 clip. Patch also led on defense with 11 digs for a double-double and a team-high four blocks. Ryan Boyce helped out with 43 assists.

BYU (25-4) had 51 kills to Long Beach State’s 44, but the 49ers (24-8) won on the blocks battle 8-7.5.

The Cougars took the early lead in the first set, but couldn’t get more than two points ahead of the 49ers through the first half of the set. BYU kept the edge despite 10 ties until an attack error put Long Beach State on top 16-15. Three kills from 49er Taylor Crabb gave Long Beach State a 20-17 advantage, the 49ers’ largest lead of the set.

Young, who hit 1.000 (4-0-4) for the set, got the Cougars going again with a kill, launching a three-point run that tied the set at 21. BYU forced four more ties before taking the lead on a too-long swing by the 49ers. Patch gave BYU a 27-26 lead on a kill, then took the set on an ace 28-26. Patch finished the set with eight kills.

Starting the second set down 3-0, the Cougars rallied to take a 5-4 lead on a Sander kill. Long Beach State kept it close, retaking the lead 8-7 lead on an attack error.

Down 17-15, Sander threw down a kill that cut the deficit to one. On the next rally, the 49ers couldn’t manage to get the ball over the net, tying the game up 17-all. BYU picked up speed, snatching an 18-17 lead with the help of a Young kill. Four-straight Cougar kills pushed BYU ahead 24-20. After allowing two more Long Beach State points, Patch finished the set off 25-22 with his 13th kill of the match.

“We were down early in the first and had a few things go our way in the end and snuck away with a first-set win,” McGown said. “Same thing in the third, down a few and made a few plays. We served some balls well and I thought that was a hallmark of our team the last two matches. I thought we were really good from the service line and put a lot of pressure on our opponents.”

The 49ers overcame a 3-1 BYU lead to go up 4-3 in the third set. They increased that lead to three at 12-9. The Cougars trailed until a Long Beach State error launched the BYU comeback effort and Patch took the lead with back-to-back aces, 20-19. A Boyce block put the Cougars in position for match point, and Patch sealed the championship on a final kill.

“More than anything the boys just did what they’ve been doing all season long,” McGown said. “They have just stayed in the moment and kept battling every single point.”

Sander, Young and Josue Rivera were named to the all-tournament team. Crabb and Connor Olbright represented Long Beach State on the team. In addition, Collin Mehring from UC Irvine and Gonzalo Quiroga from UCLA were named to the all-tournament team.

With the conference title, BYU also clinches the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. The Cougars will play in the semifinals May 2 in Los Angeles and will find out their opponent Sunday during the seeding selection at 1 p.m. MDT.

 

BYU Men's Volleyball Notes

Since its inaugural volleyball season in 1993, the winner of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) men’s volleyball tournament has gone on to capture the NCAA Championship 13 of the 20 years.

BYU has won four MPSF volleyball tournament championships (1999, 2003, 2004, 2013). Three times the Cougars have gone on to win the NCAA National Championship (1999, 2001, 2004). BYU was the at-large bid in 2001 after winning the regular season title.

In 2003 the Cougars won the MPSF tournament but lost in the NCAA title game to Lewis, who later forfeited its 2003 NCAA men's volleyball championship after an investigation found the team played an ineligible athlete.

Since winning its first MPSF title in 1999, BYU has captured more championships than any other team. The Cougars have five titles in that 15-year stretch. Pepperdine is second with three championships, while UCLA and UC Irvine have each won two titles.

Since its inaugural season (1993), MPSF schools have won 16 of the 20 NCAA Volleyball Championships.