Taylor Sander leads No. 3 BYU to 3-1 victory over No. 1 UC Irvine

(Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU)

PROVO, Utah – Taylor Sander led No. 3 BYU men's volleyball to a 3-1 (25-20, 25-23, 19-25, 25-22) victory over the No. 1 team in the nation, UC Irvine, Friday in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,038 fans at the Smith Fieldhouse.

“I was glad to see us do it in four,” head coach Chris McGown said. “At the start of the fourth set, I was curious to see how our team would come out and how we would react. It was nice to see us shake off that third set, play a little better, and get it done.”

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Sander finished with 16 kills, eight digs and three blocks. Russ Lavaja ended with 12 kills and four blocks, and Josue Rivera contributed 12 kills, two digs and one block. Ryan Boyce finished with 47 assists and seven digs.

BYU improves its record to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. UC Irvine falls to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the MPSF. This marks the Anteater’s third consecutive loss to MPSF teams.

BYU and UC Irvine exchanged points to kick off the first set. BYU pulled away 10-7 due to back-to-back Irvine hitting errors, but allowed Irvine to bounce back tying the game at 11. The teams continued to exchange leads until late in the set when BYU pulled away by two due to the strong presence of Devin Young in the middle. Young had two kills and one block for the Cougars to regain the lead. The Cougars extended their lead to four, which Patch followed with an ace to close out the set 25-20.

Similarly to set one, a dig by Boyce from the right sideline set up another kill by Patch giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead at the beginning of set two. Irvine took over with its first lead 7-6 following a joust at the net between Boyce and Irvine’s Colin Mehring. Several hitting errors plagued the Cougars in the middle of the set giving the Anteaters a 12-8 lead. Young broke Irvine’s streak with a power hit in the middle putting the Cougars within three. Irvine maintained a four-point lead until a kill from Patch and an Irvine hitting error pulled the Cougars within two. Following two digs and a kill from Sander, BYU regained the lead 20-19 for the first time since BYU led 6-5. Tied at 23, another kill from Lavaja gave the Cougars set point, and a hitting error from Irvine’s Jeremy Dejno gave the Cougars the set.

The Cougars fell behind 5-3 in the third set, but Boyce fed Lavaja three times in a row to pull within one. Another kill from Sander tied the game at 5, and a block from Lavaja in the middle gave the Cougars the lead 6-5. Midway through set three, Irvine pulled away again going up 13-10 following several Cougar errors. A BYU kill and an Irvine hitting error brought the Cougars within one, but more errors allowed the Anteaters to extend their lead 20-14. A hitting error by BYU gave Irvine its first chance to serve on set point, but a kill from Patch kept BYU in the set. Irvine’s Connor Hughes hit high off hands to take set three, 25-19.

With Irvine up 8-6 in the fourth set, a diving back set by Boyce to Patch put the Cougars within one. BYU tied the game again due to a kill from Rivera and took back the lead at 11-10 following a Sander kill to the deep corner. Tied at 18, another kill from Sander put the Cougars back in the lead by one and an Irvine overpass set Lavaja up in the middle. On the next play, a dig from Rivera set up another kill from Lavaja giving the Cougars a 21-18 advantage. On the Cougars first match point, Sander served the ball long, but on their second attempt Boyce set Young in the middle for the win, 25-22.

“I love the level of belief we have that we can play with anyone,” McGown said. “We can play wonderful volleyball at times. If we can keep getting better and play for longer stretches, I think we are going to have a nice result.”

BYU is back in action tomorrow night against No. 13 UC San Diego. The match will begin at 7 p.m. MST in the Smith Fieldhouse. 

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