PROVO, Utah – Despite battling back from a 2-0 deficit to force a fifth set, the comeback for No. 3 BYU men’s volleyball fell short, dropping the match 3-2 (25-23, 28-26, 32-34, 21-25, 15-12) to No. 7 UC Irvine at the Smith Fieldhouse Friday night.
In the fifth set, BYU found success toward the beginning by attacking from the back row, riding kills from Brenden Sander and Jake Langlois to tie it at 3-3. The Anteaters responded, scoring four straight to take a 7-3 advantage. The Cougars fought back, getting three unanswered to get within one, 8-7. However, UC Irvine got back in control from there. Langlois killed the ball from the back row to fight off the first match point, but the effort ultimately fell short, as BYU dropped the set 15-12.
"Tough loss," BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. "I felt like the guys didn't feel very comfortable out there. It's hard to pin-point why right now. It just didn't feel like they were in rhythm with each other. You're going to be in trouble when you give a team wiggle room, but we fought and battled. To be able to respond when it could've been just as easy to forget was great."
The teams were fairly equal in most categories, with the Anteaters (7-2, 4-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) edging the Cougars (6-2, 2-1 MPSF) in kills 59 to 58 and in digs 34-32, but the biggest difference came from the service line. UC Irvine had nine aces in the win, even with 28 service errors. BYU had five aces with 25 missed serves.
Three Cougars reached double-digit kills in the loss. Langlois led the team with 17 kills on a .353 clip, along with seven digs and three blocks. Sander had 15 kills and five blocks, while Ben Patch chipped in 14 kills, four digs and four blocks. Pacing the offense, Leo Durkin had 47 assists along with four digs and blocks.
Langlois came flying out of the back row for a kill to get the first set started. The Cougars went on a 3-0 run to go up 9-6, capped off with a kill from Patch. After that run, neither team scored more than two in-a-row throughout the set. There were multiple ties, BYU breaking them each time to take back a lead. However, UC Irvine went up 21-20 late in the set. Price Jarman’s quick kill made it 22-22, but the Anteaters got to set point. The visiting team would take the first set 25-23 on a kill.
UC Irvine kept the momentum from the first set into the second, going up 5-2 early on. The Cougar block got rolling, propelling the home squad to a 6-1 run with two stuff blocks to get up 10-8. Sander drilled BYU’s second ace of the set during a 3-0 run that put his team up 16-12. However, the Anteaters responded with four straight to get within one, 16-15. Behind back-to-back kills from Sander out of the back row, the Cougars went on a 5-1 run to push the lead back up to 21-16. BYU reached set point at 24-19 but allowed UC Irvine to score five unanswered to tie the game. After trading points, the Anteaters won the second set 28-26.
An ace from Patch put BYU up 3-1 early in the third set. After switching side outs, the Anteaters rattled off four straight to take the 13-10 lead and force a Cougar timeout. UC Irvine was up by a couple of points for a while until its errors allowed BYU to get within one, 19-18. Langlois killed the ball down the line to tie it up at 19-all. The away team got back on top, but a block from Tim Dobbert and Joseph Grosh evened it up again at 22-22. Facing match point, Sander killed the ball deep across to keep the set going. The two squads battled back and forth, trading set points. Durkin won a joust at the net to stay alive on another match point, tying it at 30-30. A huge triple block by BYU finally ended the set 34-32, keeping the Cougars’ hopes alive.
The fourth set started off in UC Irvine’s favor, getting up 5-2 early on. Three-straight rallies won got BYU within one, 9-8, after Patch killed it deep cross. The Cougars scored three more unanswered points to take the 12-11 lead. The set saw both teams taking the lead throughout, but BYU started to pull away after a kill from Langlois put the Cougars up 18-16. He would pound down two-straight kills to win the set 25-21, forcing the decisive fifth set.
BYU hosts a rematch with UC Irvine on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Smith Fieldhouse. It will be live on theW.tv at 7 p.m. MST.