Cougars Win National Championship
LONG BEACH -- It has been a dream in the making all season long. Winning the National Championship was the goal of every BYU men's volleyball player from the first day of practice. A total of seven weeks at No. 1, 23 victories, an MPSF regular-season championship and four All-American's later, the dream finally became a reality. Today, at The Pyramid in Long Beach, Calif., the second-ranked Cougars knocked off 18-time National Champion and top-ranked UCLA to claim their second NCAA National Championship in the past three seasons. The Cougars (23-4) outdueled the Bruins (24-8) for the second time this season, this time in just three games, 30-26, 30-26, 32-30.
"Before the season started, I said I thought this team could win a National Championship," BYU head coach Carl McGown said. "It has been a long season and we've done some great things, but this is the greatest. I can't tell you how proud I am of these guys for setting a goal early on, working hard, sticking to it and winning their second National Championship. I couldn't be happier for these guys. It was great to win the championship in 1999 when we should have won it, but it's an even better feeling to win it when the odds weren't so much in our favor, and to win it against the best of the best -- it's such a great feeling."
Three Cougars were selected to the NCAA All-Tournament team, including MVP Mike Wall. Wall led BYU with 16 kills, hitting .323 on 31 swings and added four blocks, five digs and one ace in the Championship match. All-Tournament performer Hector Lebron paced the Cougars with 43 assists and added five digs and three blocks defensively. Joaquin Acosta hit a blistering .450, connecting on 11-of-20 attempts. The 6-5 outside hitter also added five digs, three blocks and one ace to earn all-Tournament honors.
The Cougars outblocked UCLA, 14.5 to 3.0, led be senior Mac Wilson who posted a match-high seven blocks. Fellow senior Scott Bunker added six blocks, limiting the Bruins to a .310 average at the net.
"BYU is the best team in the nation," UCLA legendary head coach Al Scates said. "Scott Bunker is the best blocker in the nation. He is better than anyone on the national team right now. He is ready to play internationally right now. Simply, with Bunker and guys like Joaquin Acosta, this is the best team BYU has ever had."
In game one the two teams battled to a 6-6 tie before the Cougars took a one-point lead on Wall's first of four kills. The Bruins came rolling back and held a one-point advantage through 12, before BYU would again take the lead on a Wilson and Wall tag-team block. The two teams would again trade serves through 22 before the Cougars started pulling away. Luka Slabe gave BYU a two-point cushion at 24-22 with an ace, while Wall and Wilson again teamed up to stuff the UCLA attack, giving the Cougars their largest lead at 25-22. After a UCLA timeout, the Bruins rallied back to even things up at 26-26 on back-to-back BYU hitting errors. Acosta's third kill of the game put the Cougars on top to stay when Wall's serve fell through for an ace to start a three-point game-ending rally. Game one ended, 30-26 on a Ian Burnham attack error.
Game two started out in similar fashion, with both teams trading serves through 22. The Cougars took the lead and would push the gap to 24-22 on back-to-back Ian Burnham hitting errors. After UCLA scored, the Cougars came right back with a monster triple-block on Adam Naeve, led again by Wall and Wilson. With a two-point lead at 27-25, Lebron dumped off for his second kill to give BYU a 28-25 advantage. Mark Williams picked up a kill for UCLA, but then Acosta took matters in to his own hands, picking up the Cougars' 29th point on his third kill of the game and then ended things with an ace aimed at the Bruins' Adam Shrader.
With the mostly-BYU crowd of over 5,000 and momentum on their side, the Cougars looked to close things out in convincing fashion by winning game three. The Bruins, of course, had different ideas. As in games one and two, the two teams battled back and forth, recording 20 ties in the game. BYU held a 29-28 advantage with Slabe serving for match-point. UCLA's Scott Morrow tied things up with his 13th kill of the night, even the match at 29-29. Wall gave the Cougars the advantage on a kill down the line. Morrow again came up big, stuffing the Cougars' second match-point serve, recording his 14th kill. Acosta answered with his 11th and final kill to give BYU its third shot at match point.
With Wall serving, the Bruins set their offense in motion. UCLA sophomore setter Rich Nelson went for the dump, but Bunker and Acosta met him at the net and forced the match-winning block and concluded the sweep over the Bruins.
"I wasn't worried about all their championships," Wall said. "I'm sure that could be intimidating to some teams, but we didn't let it get to us. We had beaten them earlier in the season and I knew we could do it again. We won our second National Championship and it doesn't get any better than beating a team like UCLA in the championship match with all its history and tradition."
ÃƒÂ² The victory marked only the seventh over the Bruins, dating back to the 1990 season.
ÃƒÂ² BYU is undefeated in NCAA Championship Tournament action, posting a perfect 4-0 record.
ÃƒÂ² BYU posted a 22-1 record after winning the first game during the 2001 season.
ÃƒÂ² The 3-0 win over UCLA marked the 15th three-game sweep for the Cougars this season.
ÃƒÂ² Saturday's victory marks the seventh combined NCAA National Championship for the Cougars, including football, track, golf, men's volleyball (2) and women's cross country (2).
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