In the start of an important home series against #4-ranked BYU, the UCLA Men's Volleyball team came out strong and outplayed the Cougars to sweep them in straight sets, 40-38, 30-21, 30-24.
After snapping a four-game losing streak by edging out UCSB in five sets last week then going on to sweep then-#2 CSUN in an unbelievable straight-set match, UCLA (3-4, 2-2) needed to prove that those wins were not a fluke by defeating the BYU Cougars (5-2, 3-1), who had beaten the Bruins earlier this year in a non-conference tournament at UCSB. UCLA also needed to avenge last year's loss to BYU in an embarrassing sweep at Pauley.
The Bruins started off strong in the first set with a pair of kills and a service ace by senior outside hitter Garrett Muagututia, jumping ahead to a 4-1 lead. Service errors by UCLA and strong attacks by BYU allowed the Cougars to narrow the lead several times, but each time the Bruins were able to pull away little by little. BYU called a timeout at 17-14 and more service errors by the Bruins and Cougar kills tied up the game at 18 a piece. The Bruins came close to bagging the set with a 27-24 lead, but amazing kills by BYU sophomore Futi Tavana and junior Kevin Sagers tied the game at 30.
The several minutes leading up to this point was exciting but the tie situation ratcheted up the intensity another notch. Both teams had their share of service errors that kept them from taking the set and the sideouts kept coming. On the Bruins side, Muagututia, sophomore NIck Vogel and RS junior Dylan Bowermaster continued to hammer in kills to keep the game alive. When BYU attacked the ball into the antenna, giving the Bruins a crucial 39-38 lead, UCLA was finally able to seal the deal with Bowermaster's skillful dink past a BYU blocker into the BYU court, taking the set 40-38.
Given how close this first set was, I thought this match might go into all five sets. But the Bruins were able to make adjustments and settle down into their groove. The second set began with another commanding Bruin lead, 5-0. The number of UCLA service errors decreased significantly, allowing UCLA to maintain the lead. Then BYU's blocking went into overdrive, with sophomore Russell Lavaja shutting down Bruin kills four times in a row and tying the set at 15-15.
The Bruins kept it together, though, and Muagututia, Bowermaster and RS sophomore Jack Polales continued to knock in kills through or off of BYU blocks. UCLA also had key blocks themselves, which is huge considering UCLA's blocking had been minimal until last week and BYU was the best-blocking team in the conference. But solid walls put up by Vogel, Bowermaster, Polales and senior Kevin Ker kept the formidable BYU offense at bay and UCLA took the second set, 30-21.
Fighting for its life, the Cougars in the third set jumped to a lead for the first time as junior Jeff Robinson laid down three kills in a row and put the Cougars on top, 1-3. But the Bruins weren't going to let them off that easy. Masterful kills by Polales off of BYU blocks and continued strong blocking by Vogel, Polales and sophomore Thomas Amberg allowed Bruins to take back the lead and run with it. After chipping the Bruins lead down to two at 13-11, the Cougars were never quite able to catch up with the nonstop attacks by the Bruins and UCLA eventually led away with a 30-24 third-set and straight-sets win over BYU.
Three players recorded double-digit kills today - Polales (19), Bowermaster (14), and Muagututia (13). In addition, the Bruins really tried to improve its accuracy, reducing the number of errors per set from 6 in the first to an mere 2 in the third set. UCLA was able to limit the Cougars to a 0.252 hitting average while pounding out a 0.459 average themselves. The Bruins also out-blocked the Cougars with 11.0 team blocks to 5.5 for them. I was really impressed by the Bruins' tenacity and focus today and feel confident that the foundation for a winning season is being firmly set.
With this win, UCLA finally floats to .500 overall (4-4) and more importantly, starts creeping up the MPSF rankings with a 3-2 record so far. The Bruins will meet the Cougars again tomorrow, January 30th at 7 pm at Pauley.