Gabi Garcia Fernandez goes on a ‘spectacular’ ace run, No. 2 BYU sweeps Grand Canyon in MPSF semifinal
Top-seeded Cougars improve to 18-3, will meet Pepperdine in the championship match Saturday at 7 p.m. at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo
The legend of BYU volleyball star Gabi Garcia Fernandez grew on Friday night, even if Grand Canyon’s Camden Gianni recorded more kills.
Garcia Fernandez thrilled the Smith Fieldhouse crowd of around 700 — limited due to COVID-19 precautions — with a four-ace run that few there will ever forget.
Properly energized by the two-time Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year’s serving in the first set, No. 2-ranked BYU rolled to a 3-0 win over GCU in an MPSF tournament semifinal match.
“It was great. As every athlete (knows), if you go on a 4-ace run, it is almost unbelievable, especially at this level,” Garcia Fernandez said. “Grateful I had the opportunity. I had to go back and bring it to the guys. … The tougher I serve, the better it is.”
The scores were 25-14, 25-19 and 29-27.
“We gotta get ready for another dogfight. It is Pep. It doesn’t matter that we have won all the games we have played against them. They are going to bring it. They are not going to just say, ‘Hey, here ya go, here is the championship for you, goodbye.’” — BYU volleyball star Gabi Garcia Fernandez
Top-seeded BYU (18-3) moves on to meet Pepperdine in the championship match on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Smith Fieldhouse. The third-seeded Waves swept No. 2 UCLA 3-0 in the first semifinal.
“We gotta get ready for another dogfight. It is Pep. It doesn’t matter that we have won all the games we have played against them. They are going to bring it,” Garcia Fernandez said. “They are not going to just say, ‘Hey, here ya go, here is the championship for you, goodbye.’”
It will be the fifth BYU-Pepperdine matchup, with the Cougars having won the previous four, two by sweeps and two by 3-1 counts.
“They are going to come and bring their guns. We are going to come and bring our bigger guns,” Garcia Fernandez said. “We are going to respect that team, and respect them the best way, just beating them.”
As for bringing the heavy artillery, that’s what BYU did in getting revenge for one of its few losses this season, a 3-0 setback in Phoenix on Feb. 25.
Garcia Fernandez’s big run of aces came midway through the first set to push the Cougars’ lead to 20-9, and BYU pretty much coasted until the third set when the Lopes made things interesting.
“We know he’s one of the best servers in the conference,” said GCU senior David Kisiel. “Those things happen, you have to move on from it.”
Garcia Fernandez could remember only one other time he’s been on such a streak, last year against Mount Olive. Coach Shawn Olmstead thinks there may have been a couple others.
“Yeah, it is special, spectacular, and I think I told someone after he had three or four, I kinda told one of my coaches, ‘Someone’s head is going off here.’” Olmstead said. “Because I felt he was going to rip it. So it was either going to be one of our blockers at the net, standing there. Or it was going to be the scoreboard.”
Indeed, the run ended with a service error.
BYU finished with eight services aces, GCU three. The Cougars hit .390, but only after cooling off considerably in the third set. They hit .500 in the first set and .575 in the second.
Setter Wil Stanley had 35 assists.
“At end of the match, I told Wil I thought he was the MVP tonight,” Olmstead said. “You can take Gabi’s aces and his hitting percentage, but it just felt like Wil did a really nice job just moving the ball around, making good decisions. He was really getting the ball pin to pin.”
Zach Eschenberg added 10 kills and four blocks, while Davide Gardini had eight kills and two blocks.
Grand Canyon coach Matt Werle said it obviously wasn’t the result the Lopes were looking for, but he was proud of the way his crew battled in the third set. GCU had a 22-19 lead and two set points but couldn’t quite close it out, and BYU won 29-27.
“We can be proud of leaving the building the way we left the building,” Werle said. “… Being down 2-0 made us feel a little more loose on the court.
Gianni’s 15 kills led GCU, while Kisiel added seven.
“Our team started doing some of the little things better,” Kisiel said.
Olmstead said the Cougars, who may or may not have punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament Friday, depending on who one listens to, can take the mystery out of it with a win Saturday.
“I think the world of that (Pepperdine) program. … They do play really good volleyball. They are just going to chip away,” Olmstead said. “They are not going to do anything that is going to make too many highlight reels.”
Nope. That’s Garcia Fernandez’s job. Maybe he will go for five straight this time.