This match may not have gone the distance, but it certainly lived up to its billing. It was a knock-down, drag-out fight in which two of the four sets went beyond the usual “first to 25” format.
In the end, however, the good guys won and, as a result, the UCLA Bruins men’s volleyball team will face Long Beach State on Saturday night for the 2018 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship, which, if the Bruins win, will be UCLA’s 116th national championship.
Of course, that would put UCLA and Stanford back into a tie for the most NCAA titles, at least until Sunday afternoon when the NCAA Beach Championship is crowned. The Bruins are #1 in the nation right now as well as the top seed in the NCAA Beach Volleyball Tournament which opens play Friday morning at 7 am PT when UCLA faces Florida International on ESPNU.
But, tonight, we’re discussing men’s volleyball. UCLA took tonight’s match against the BYU Cougars, 3-1 (25-22, 24-26, 29-27, 25-19).
Overall, the Bruins outhit the Cougars, .336 to .320. That, ultimately, was the big key to tonight’s match. In short, UCLA made fewer mistakes than BYU.
The first set, like much of the match, was a seesaw battle. No team led by more than 2 points until the very end of the set. The biggest run in this set was a 3-0 run. Each team had one. After 36 points, the Bruins and the Cougars were tied at 18-18. The next two points proved to be the most critical and UCLA won them both. That gave the Bruins a two-point edge, which BYU just could not come back from.
The next set was fought even harder. Again, the biggest run in the set was a 3-0 run, but this time, both runs including the final run to win the set belonged to BYU. UCLA probably should have won this set, too, but, UCLA, with the lead 24-23, could not stop Gabi Garcia Fernande from killing three consecutive points and the Cougars won the set, 26-24.
With UCLA now aheaed up 2-1, there was no indication that it was going to get an easier in the fourth set, but it did get that way pretty quickly. With the score tied 2-2, the Bruins went on the 3-0 run and they did it again when up 10-9. That gave UCLA a four-point advantage, which was the largest margin either team had led by up to that point in the match. The Bruins continued to hold on by at least two points until the score was 17-15, Bruins. A 4-1 Bruin run pushed the lead to 5 at 21-16. The teams alternated scoring on the next six points and UCLA had a set and match point at 24-19. Freshman Grant Maleski was sent in to serve for the Bruins and he aced it to win the set and the match for UCLA.
Christian Hessenauer led the Bruins with 14 kills while Daenan Gyimah picked up 13 and Jake Arnitz added 10. Dylan Missry led all players with 11 digs and Micah Ma’a had 38 assists.
The Bruins now advance to Saturday night’s final between UCLA and Long Beach State.