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BYU men’s volleyball beats UC Santa Barbara, remains unbeaten at home

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Brigham Young’s Kupono Browne (wearing white) spikes the ball.

Brigham Young’s Kupono Browne (3) spikes the ball during an NCAA mens volleyball match at the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

Ryan Sun, Deseret News

BYU was triumphant in its return to the Smith Fieldhouse Friday evening against No. 14 UC Santa Barbara following two straight weeks of road matches. In what was the Cougars’ fifth consecutive contest versus a nationally ranked foe, the school walked away with a 3-1 victory for its third win in the last four matches. 

It marks just the second time this season that the Cougars have needed more than three sets to earn a victory at home. 

The series has been dominated by the home squad over the last five years, and BYU continued that trend. The Cougars’ lone loss Friday came in the first game, the night ending in set scores of 22-25, 25-19, 25-23 and 25-20. 

BYU entered the match ranked No. 10 for the school’s highest ranking this season. On the floor, the Cougars impressed, proving the poll right.

“We’ve been playing really good volleyball the last few weeks on the road,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. “I just felt like (our players) tried to do a little too much in the first set. … We were just making a few too many errors and trying to overdo things. So we just told them, ‘Guys, just even out.’ And that’s all they did. We didn’t do a ton. We just kind of settled down, evened out.”

BYU’s only lead of the initial set came after the first point. From there, UC Santa Barbara took over, holding to a slim advantage most of the game. The Gauchos took their largest lead late (23-17), but nearly lost it when the Cougars scored four points in a row to get within two. UC Santa Barbara finished things off moments later, handing the Cougars just their second lost set at home this season.

“Against a team like Santa Barbara you go down 1-0, that’s not a good place to be,” Olmstead said. “So I was pretty impressed for the guys to go down … against a team like that, and just to be able to stay the course.”

BYU stayed the course and rectified the loss in the next set, never trailing en route to the six-point win. The Cougars put on a dominant performance, leading by as many as nine. Sophomore outside hitter Anthony Cherfan’s six kills led BYU and made the difference in his team’s victory. 

Cherfan’s energy off the bench altered the match. “The key to all this is just being poised … being consistent, bringing the competitive … spirit into every single rally, every single play,” Cherfan said. “I came in and brought this trust and self-belief back in us, and that’s how we were able to execute this match.”

The third set was up for grabs, with eight lead changes, before BYU began pulling away near the end. A 5-1 run helped the Cougars take a three-point lead. However, UC Santa Barbara went on a run of its own to knot things up at 23. Two Cherfan kills later, and BYU had a 2-1 set lead. 

The final set saw the Cougars stay one step ahead of the Gauchos; their largest lead being five points. BYU had its fewest kills with just nine in the last game, but got help from UC Santa Barbara as the Gauchos committed eight service errors. Freshman outside hitter Trent Moser finished the match for his team from the service line with an ace, the Cougars’ fifth of the evening. 

Moser and Cherfan each finished the night with a team-high 14 kills. Senior setter Heath Hughes fed the pair of outside hitters, ultimately recording 37 assists. 

BYU will again meet UC Santa Barbara tomorrow night in Provo ahead of its conference opener next week at UCLA. 

Saturday’s match against the Gauchos can be viewed live on BYUtv at 7 p.m.