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No. 3 BYU beats No. 11 Loyola Chicago in season opener
CHICAGO – No. 3 BYU men’s volleyball defeated No. 11 Loyola Chicago in four sets (25-22, 22-25, 25-22, 25-16) to open the 2020 season on Friday.
"Tonight was a great opportunity for us to kick off the season against a strong program in a nice facility," BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. "The guys were aggressive from the service line from start to finish. We'll look to have another strong performance tomorrow against another solid opponent."
Senior Gabi Garcia Fernandez led the team with 22 kills on a .415 hitting percentage while also adding four aces. Sophomore Davide Gardini totaled 21 kills on a .424 clip and led the team with nine digs and four blocks.
Senior Wil Stanley contributed 53 assists, six digs and a pair kills while senior Zach Eschenberg recorded eight kills and a career-high four aces. The Cougars combined for a total of 11 aces as a team.
Despite four kills from Garcia Fernandez, BYU (1-0) trailed Loyola Chicago (1-1) early in the set. Consecutive kills by Miki Jauhiainen and an ace by Eschenberg helped the Cougars take a 10-8 lead. Gardini connected on four attacks as BYU extended its advantage to 22-16. The Ramblers made a late push as they capitalized on three Cougar errors to bring the score within one point, 23-22. However, a kill by Garcia Fernandez and a Loyola attack error gave BYU a 25-22 win.
The Cougars maintained control early in the second game as they jumped out to a 9-5 lead behind a pair of kills and a service ace by Garcia Fernandez. The Ramblers used an 8-3 run to claim a 13-12 edge. A pair of kills from both Gardini and Garcia Fernandez helped BYU retake the lead, 17-16. Loyola Chicago tied the set up at 17-all before reclaiming the advantage with an ace. The Cougars tied the game up at 20-all late in the set, but the Ramblers fended off the comeback to take the second set, 25-22.
Stanley dropped an ace followed by two Garcia Fernandez kills to break a 5-5 tie early in the third game and BYU maintained the advantage for the remainder of the set. Eschenberg served back-to-back aces as the Cougars increased their lead to six points, 13-7. Loyola Chicago brought the score within two points late in the third game, but a service error ended the set at 25-22.
The two teams battled early to begin the fourth set with neither one able to pull away from the other. A kill from Branden Oberender broke a 10-10 tie and ignited an 8-0 BYU run to take control of the set. Finishing with a blistering team hitting percentage of .800 in the set, Eschenberg, Garcia Fernandez and Gardini each recorded a kill to close out a 25-16 win in the set and claim the first victory of the season for the Cougars.
BYU will play No. 6 Lewis at Neil Carey Arena in Romeoville, Illinois, on Saturday, Jan. 4, at 7 p.m. CST. The match will be streamed live on GLVC Sports Network.
No. 3 BYU opens 2020 season with two big road matches
PROVO, Utah – No. 3 BYU men’s volleyball will begin the 2020 season against two ranked opponents as the Cougars travel to No. 11 Loyola-Chicago on Friday, Jan. 3, and No. 6 Lewis on Saturday, Jan. 4.
BYU and Loyola-Chicago will begin at 7 p.m. CST with the match streamed live on ESPN3. The Cougars and the Ramblers have met in four previous season openers. The two teams split the four matches with Loyola-Chicago winning the last meeting in five sets in Provo, Utah, to start the 2018 season. With the overall series tied at 5-5, BYU will have to earn its first win in Alumni Gym to take control of the series.
BYU and Lewis will play at 7 p.m. on GLVC Sports Network. With a commanding 17-3 record over the Flyers, the Cougars are 4-1 in Romeoville, Illinois. Lewis won the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championship last season and reached the semifinals in the 2019 NCAA Tournament to finish the season ranked fourth in the nation.
Two-time All-American opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez and All-American outside hitter Davide Gardini headline a very experienced BYU roster. The Cougars return 16 players that have spent at least one season with the program, including two redshirt freshmen and one player returning to the program after a two-year church mission.
Ranked third in the country and picked to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, BYU is looking to win its fourth conference championship in five seasons and return to the NCAA Tournament after missing it last year for the first time since 2012.
Shawn Olmstead returns for his fifth season as head coach of the BYU men’s volleyball program with the highest winning percentage of any active head coach in NCAA DI-II (88-28, .759).