LONG BEACH, Calif.—A Cougar comeback attempt fell short Friday, as No. 2 BYU fell 4-1 (25-21, 25-16, 25-27, 26-24) to No. 3 Long Beach State on the road.
“We got off to a really slow start, and I’m not sure what that was a function of,” BYU head coach Chris McGown said. “We just played really poorly through two sets and then found some rhythm. I thought that Long Beach served pretty well, and then the thing they did really well was pass. Ultimately we couldn’t overcome the fact that we weren’t passing great and they were passing well.”
The Cougars (12-4, 12-2 MPSF) were led by senior Taylor Sander’s 24 kills on a .345 hit clip and 11 digs, his second double-double of the season. (His first came against the 49ers in Provo Jan. 11, when he also had 24 kills and 11 digs.) With the kills, Sander passed Ivan Perez to become No. 2 at BYU in the rally-scoring era for career kills with 1,508, behind only Rob Stowell. Sander needs 50 more kills to become No. 1 in career kills in the rally-scoring era.
Michael Hatch and Jaylen Reyes tried to rally the defense with Hatch’s seven blocks and Reyes’ 12 digs. Setter Tyler Heap contributed 43 assists, five digs and three blocks, including his first career solo block, and freshman Tim Dobbert recorded career highs in kills with eight and in digs with six.
BYU went down 5-2 to start the first set, but a Sander kill followed by a Hatch and Sander block cut the score to 5-4. The Cougars couldn’t keep up the momentum for long, falling behind 12-7 at the hands of Long Beach State’s Taylor Gregory, who had two kills and two blocks in a 4-0 run.
That deficit increased to seven points until the Cougars strung together a 4-1 run to get within four at 22-18. BYU couldn’t hold on as the 49ers (12-4, 11-4 MPSF) nabbed the first set 25-21.
Starting the second set in similar fashion, BYU fell behind 5-2. Hatch cut the lead down to 9-7 on a kill, but Long Beach State quickly regained its four-point lead with the help of kills by Taylor Crabb. The 49ers ran away with the second set, capping it off 25-16 for a 2-0 overall lead.
A 4-1 Cougar deficit opened the third set, but outside hitter Phil Fuchs kicked the team in gear on a kill that launched a 4-0 BYU run to take a 5-4 lead. A service error tied the score at five, and Long Beach State retook the lead on the next point. BYU was able to overcome a three-point, 49er lead and tie the score again at 14, but the Cougars didn’t gain the advantage.
Hatch, Heap and Sander tied the score at 21 on a block, setting up Dobbert to steal the lead on a kill. A BYU service error halted momentum, but the Cougars got a break on a 49er attack error for a 23-23 score. Two ties later, Sander threw down a kill to put BYU ahead 26-25. Dobbert and fellow freshman Joe Grosh teamed up for the set-winning block, extending the match on a 27-25 third-set victory.
Neck-and-neck to start the fourth set, BYU tied the score four times before Sander’s 20th kill took the lead 8-7. A point exchange ensued, resulting in four more ties. Dobbert and Grosh each contributed kills, ending the tie streak and putting the Cougars ahead 13-11. Back-to-back kills by Sander increased that lead to 16-12.
Another round of back-to-back kills by Sander pushed BYU ahead 19-13. Long Beach State scrambled back with a 4-1 run of its own, cutting back BYU’s advantage to 20-17. The 49ers’ 6-2 run that put the score at 22-21 forced a Cougar timeout. An attack error tied the score at 23, and a Long Beach State block put the 49ers back in control. BYU tied the score again, but a kill and a block wrapped up the set and the match for the home team.
“It would have been nice to have seen what we could have done in a fifth set,” McGown said. “It was a little uncharacteristic of us, the way we finished. I’m used to seeing us finish really well. I thought for sure we were coming back and would go into a fifth. I liked our chances if we did.”
BYU finishes the weekend road trip Saturday at 7 p.m. PST at Cal State Northridge, which the Cougars beat in three sets at home in January.