(Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah—Taylor Sander’s hard hitting helped the BYU men’s volleyball team earn its senior-night sweep of No. 7 Penn State, Saturday, sending the Nittany Lions back home with a 3-0 (25-23, 25-22, 25-17) defeat.
"I thought we came out with a lot of good energy tonight," said BYU head coach Chris McGown. "We still didn't serve the way I would have liked us to, but we were better. It was nice to see that we were able to do some things in a match that we worked on last week. We're definitely improving."
The Cougars honored four seniors in Joe Kauliakamoa, Quentin Smith, Robb Stowell and Futi Tavana before the match began. Stowell leads BYU in the rally scoring era for career kills and Tavana leads for career blocks.
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"It's a little interesting," McGown said. "I think we've disconnected ourselves from the fact that this is the last time they'll play a regular season match here, we just keep thinking we still have a lot of volleyball ahead of us. They all played really hard and I was proud of them and their effort tonight."
Against the Lions, Taylor Sander led the Cougar attack with 20 kills on .515 hitting, aided by Kauliakamoa’s 41 assists. Smith led the team with five blocks. Sander also contributed two aces to put him in third place for his career aces in the BYU rally scoring era.
Neither team could take a convincing lead as the first set began, resulting in four ties until a Cougar attack error put Penn State ahead by four points. A 4-1 run, including two kills by Sander, put BYU back within one at 21-20.
An unanswered tip by Smith put the Cougars in position to tie up the set. Smith teamed up with Josue Rivera to block Penn State’s Tom Comfort for the 22-22 tie. Back-to-back blocks by Smith, the first a solo and second an assist with Kauliakamoa, gave BYU the highly contested first set at 25-23.
The Nittany Lions took the lead to start the second set, but BYU wouldn’t let them run away with it. The Cougars kept the set within two. BYU finally took a 13-12 lead on a kill from Sander, which tapped a Nittany Lion and flew out of bounds. Kauliakamoa drove the ball into an unguarded back corner to push the Cougars ahead 16-13, the largest lead of the set.
An out-of-bounds kill attempt by BYU tied the score up 18-18, but Sander didn’t let Penn State take advantage. His kill and assist to Rivera put the Cougars back in front 20-18. Sander broke Penn State’s block with his 10th kill of the set for a 24-21 lead and Smith finished it with a kill of his own.
Futi Tavana showed up strong after the break, making four of BYU’s first nine points in the final set and putting the Cougars in the lead from the first point. BYU allowed a brief, one-point Penn State lead before punching out three straight points. Ahead 15-14, BYU took a 6-0 run to finish the match for good. Penn State was unable to recover and the Cougars finished the sweep 25-17.
The Cougars head into the MPSF tournament next weekend, hosting their quarterfinal match Saturday in the Smith Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. Their opponent and seed have not been determined.