Shawn Olmstead’s young volleyball team will learn many lessons in 2022. On Friday, that lesson was ‘How to exclude an opponent’.
Tenth-ranked BYU won the first two sets against No. 13 UC Irvine, then failed to convert two match points in set 4 as the match moved to a fifth set. BYU led that set by seven, but had to fend off a furious comeback from the Anteater, eventually finishing with a 3-2 (25-23, 25-23, 17-25, 25-27, 15-12) victory.
It was the Cougars’ first win of the season after being swept twice at No. 3 Penn State two weeks ago.
“Nobody needs five-set matches, man,” Olmstead said. ‘They’re not good for our health, you know? But the boys needed this win.”
Olmstead made a successful video challenge early in set 5 for a 3-1 BYU lead. Back-to-back blocks from the Cougars pushed the advantage to 7-3. BYU led a whopping seven in the fifth set and took a 13-6 lead on a UCI service foul. The Anteaters narrowed the gap, but Miks Ramanis scored to make the match point 14-10. UCI fought twice towards the end, but on the third match point of the set, Brandon Oberender snuck in a roll shot that the visitors couldn’t handle for the winner.
Davide Gardini accelerated BYU (1-2) with 18 kills and hit .238. Alex Ah Sue added 15 kills for the Cougars, who hit only .216, but took advantage of the strong service pressure and some timely blocks to hold off UC Irvine.
Francesco Sani had 23 kills (.333) for the Anteaters, Hilir Henno had 17 (.314) and Cole Gillis had 10 (.368) while the visitors hit a solid .331 for the game.
“There’s just a lot of little things and it was all on our side of the net,” Ah Sue said. “We just have to get all the balls on our side. They (UCI) are going to score points and that’s okay. We were able to take a good lead in set 5 and maintain that momentum.”
UCI outhit the Cougars and also defeated them (42-32). BYU had seven aces to 19 serving errors, while the Anteaters finished with just two aces and 24 errors.
The Cougars had a total of 16 blocks ahead of their opponents 12, led by Gavin Julien with seven block assists and Ah Sue with six.
“It came down to serving us,” Olmstead said. “They (UCI) didn’t produce enough aces on their side. We kind of blocked them out, but they dug us out at ten. I was proud of the guys for sticking with it.”
Ah Sue’s cross court smash gave the Cougars a 25-23 win in Set 1, and Gardini tapped an off-speed shot off the block at the end of Set 2 for another 25-23 win, giving the home team a 2 -0 lead.
It was the Anteaters who stepped up the attack in Set 3, hitting .500 behind the attacks of Sani and Henno for the 25-17 win.
The Cougars led set 4 by two points at 14-12, but most of the set was tied or within a point. BYU came in 19-18 on a kill from Gardini and had a few match points to end it, but failed to convert. UCI’s Cole Gillis went off the block for the winner at 27-25 to force a fifth set.
An announced crowd of 3,174 followed the new BYU COVID protocols and enjoyed the game at the Smith Fieldhouse.
“I knew it was going to be really great,” Ah Sue said. “The crowd we have here carries us through a lot of hard times. We don’t have that on the road and we have to get better at that.”
BYU (1-2) and UC Irvine (3-2) meet again at the Fieldhouse Saturday at 7:00 PM MT.