CHICAGO—BYU men’s volleyball finished its 2014 season with a 3-2 (25-18, 21-25, 22-25, 29-27, 15-12) loss to Stanford in the NCAA tournament semifinals Thursday in Chicago.
"It had to be one of the best semifinals that's been played in this tournament in a long, long time," BYU head coach Chris McGown said. "We're clearly disappointed with the result, but I thought that we did everything we could. We played as hard as we possibly could, and ultimately they got a few plays that went their way."
It was the fourth time the teams played each other this season, with the Cougars (21-9) taking the first three matchups before the Cardinal (24-8) claimed the win on Thursday. The teams faced each other only five days prior to the NCAA semifinal, with BYU winning a 3-0 decision in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match.
Senior All-American and American Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Year Taylor Sander recorded a season-high 28 kills on the night, just one shy of his career high. Sander also had four aces, giving him sole ownership of the BYU rally-scoring era record for service aces in a season with 55. With 56 attempts against Stanford, he also passed Rob Stowell to claim the BYU rally-scoring era career attempts record (3,464).
Sander was aided by Josue Rivera’s 10 kills and 11 digs, his third double-double of the season. Setter Robbie Sutton had career highs of 51 assists and eight digs. Senior Devin Young led in blocking with seven, including a career-high two solo blocks.
Stanford had three players in double figures for both kills and digs.
Starting the match with an 8-3 deficit, BYU struggled to gain its footing through the first set. Stanford posted 20 kills during the set to the Cougars’ 12, riding a .679 hit clip to a 25-18 Cardinal victory in the first frame.
The Cougars found their rhythm in the second set, with Michael Hatch, Tim Dobbert and Rivera teaming up for BYU’s first block of the match. Sander added an ace for a 3-0 Cougar lead. A Stanford service error launched a 6-0 BYU run, highlighted by back-to-back blocks from Rivera, Sutton and Young, to give the Cougars a 10-3 lead.
The BYU block continued to prove hard to beat, with the Cougars collecting 5.5 in the second set. Stanford put together a 4-0 run with BYU at set point, but Sander’s seventh kill of the set finished it off 25-21 to tie the overall score 1-1.
Breaking out of a 3-3 tie in the third set, the Cougars jumped ahead 7-4 on two kills each from Sander and Young. BYU led by as many as six before a Stanford 6-1 scoring streak cut the lead to 17-16. The Cardinal tied the score at 20 on a kill, but Sander stepped up with two kills to lead BYU to the 25-22 set-three win and 2-1 overall lead. Sander went into the fourth set with 20 kills hitting .432.
Tie scores were the name of the game in the fourth set. After BYU held the early lead in the frame, Stanford fought back for a 7-7 tie. The Cardinal’s Steven Irvin and Spencer Haly pushed Stanford into a 12-11 lead on a block. A Dobbert kill tied the score at 15, giving Sander the chance to throw down a kill from the back row and take the lead back 16-15. Tied again at 19, BYU grabbed the lead when Irvin hit the ball into the net after a long rally.
With BYU fighting to finish the match and Stanford fighting for a fifth set, the teams exchanged points until a kill and ace by the Cardinal wrapped up the set 29-27.
Rivera powered through a Stanford block to put BYU ahead 4-2 in the fifth set. BYU stayed one step ahead until two kills put the Cardinal ahead 10-9. Down 12-9, the Cougars got a break on a Stanford service error, but couldn’t capitalize on the free point. The Cougars continued to battle before the Cardinal ended the match with a kill for the 15-12 win.
BYU head coach Chris McGown
We are clearly disappointed with the result. We did everything we possible could and played as hard as we could. Ultimately, they got a few plays that went there way and I thought they played great as well. It’s easy to have a few plays go your way when you are playing as well as they did. I thought they came in with a good offensive game plan and executed it really well. But I love the fire and the heart that our guys showed the entire time. Again, at the end of the year not the way we wanted to finish, but I’m deeply, deeply proud of our team and of the effort they put in and the season they put together. They came through a lot of adversity and came through a lot of difficult times and were able to string together some wonderful wins and just in general had a great year.
On what it says about the program being in NCAA tournament back-to-back years
I think it says two things. One thing it says it that Taylor (Sander) is a really nice player and he’s carried us a lot. The other thing I think it says is that our program is in great shape and we expect to be back here a bunch. I think we are building this nice legacy for our program with the type of players we are attracting and the following we have at BYU has been remarkable. I like our chances going forward. It will be hard like it is every year with so many good players and so many good teams in our league. We’ve earned this spot for the last two years. Obviously it would be nice to have a little bit different result.
On fourth game
We were doing so many things well and just (had) a couple of errors. We served two balls out in the 20s and then there was a play where we actually got a pretty good touch on a block and the ball just kind of popped up right between two players and it was one of those ‘I go, no you go,’ and we kind of botched that play and made a bad set to put it over and that’s all it takes. Suddenly we find ourselves on the wrong side of that set. I thought during the whole season we were winning on executing those little plays and couldn’t quite make them in a couple big moments tonight. I thought that was (the difference).
I thought Stanford did a really good job with a nuanced game plan against us. Offensively they gave us a different look from what we’ve seen on film from them for quite some time. I thought that was a good adaptation they made in the time since we played them at BYU. We certainly couldn't catch up with them in the first set and then they got some things going in the fourth set that kept them in it. Stanford did a nice job defensively.
On series with Stanford
We like our number in the series (3-1 record vs. Stanford this year) but we just lost the one at the wrong time.
On atmosphere and the match
I have to think the people that watch this match for sure got their monies worth. I can’t remember a semifinal that was this tightly contested and played at such a high level. It was fun to see a big crowd.
BYU senior Taylor Sander
On fourth set
We had all the chances in the world to finish that set out and we didn’t make the plays and they did. It was the same in the fifth. We weren’t able to buckle down and make those plays and so they were able to capitalize. That was the match right there.
On his final match
It’s so hard losing and it’s so hard for my career at BYU to be done. The hardest part is not losing that match, it’s that I don’t get to battle with my boys anymore, going to battle with them every match.
On BYU community
They mean a lot to me and have made me a lot better player. Having that support is amazing. I thank them a lot. The atmosphere we have at BYU is amazing. It’s been fun to play volleyball there and go to school there.