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BYU men’s volleyball: Cougars take a rare straight set win over UCLA

The match looked like a typical BYU vs. UCLA affair, other than the second set, which saw the Cougars completely roll over their rival

BYU volleyball players form a circle at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.
BYU volleyball players form a circle at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

PROVO — No. 2-ranked BYU is rolling on the early season and enunciated that fact on Thursday with a straight set win over No. 7 UCLA (30-29, 25-12, 25-23.)

Matches versus the Bruins typically go the distance, featuring tight play and furious volleys between the two bitter rivals, making the course toward BYU’s win very much on the atypical side of things.

“They’re going to give you their best shot every time they come to Provo, but they got to know we’re going to bring the same thing,” said BYU setter Wil Stanley, who has become keenly aware of the rivalry. “We have a hatred of them, not because of any players on the team, just because they’re UCLA.”

The first set appeared like your usual BYU vs. UCLA match, with both teams not giving an inch until the Cougars managed a 30-29 set win.

It all led into a second set where Stanley, and his teammates, got things rolling in a big way.

The set saw the Cougars build an early lead and dominate the stat sheet, combining for a .714 hitting percentage to UCLA’s -.067. A big reason for it was the play of Stanley, who took a directive from BYU coach Shawn Olmstead to spread the ball around a bit more to keep the Bruins off-guard.

“It’s easy when you have Davide (Gardini), Gabi (Garcia Fernandez) and Felipe (de Brito Ferreira) on the court at the same time,” Stanley said of his talented teammates. “...What we have on our side of the court is something special, that doesn’t come around very often, and for me it’s pretty easy...it’s just about getting everybody swings.”

On Thursday everyone was involved, with Fernandez leading the way with a match-high 13 kills, Gardini adding 11 and Zach Eschenberg another seven. Sets were typically on point throughout, leading to a team hitting percentage of .373 to UCLA’s .256.

The Cougars’ biggest advantage very well may have come from the service line, where they scored four service aces to the Bruins’ one and committed just 12 service errors, compared with 18 committed by UCLA. Once again it was Fernandez leading the way behind the service line, scoring three aces with his high-velocity jump serve.

UCLA was led on the night by Cole Ketrzynski and his team-high 11 kills.

While any win over UCLA is big, using it to get off to a 1-0 start in MPSF Conference play makes it even bigger, as the Cougars improve to 11-0 on the year overall.

“I’ve been proud of the guys, and this is the start of another phase,” Olmstead said of getting that first conference win. “Of course it’s better to start 1-0 instead of 0-1, so I’m happy for the guys in that sense.”

Next up for the Cougars is a match versus Pepperdine on Saturday.