Provo • On the road to its tournament championship, BYU faced plenty of challenges, moments that would have discouraged a mentally weaker team.
The No. 1-ranked Cougars drew on all of their moxie to win their first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament championship since 2004, which, incidentally, was when BYU won the last of its three national championships.
Saturday’s 28-26, 25-22, 25-22 defeat of No. 2 Long Beach State before 4,190 spectators rocking the Smith Fieldhouse solidified BYU’s No. 1 seed when Thursday’s Final Four begins at UCLA.
The Cougars (26-4) took to heart their coach’s philosophy of surviving tough times. And on Saturday, despite the three-game sweep, the 49ers (24-8) had chances to win each one.
“Stay who we are,” explained BYU coach Chris McGown. “Who we are is a really good volleyball team.”
BYU’s Taylor Sander, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, finished with 15 kills and three digs. Teammate Ben Patch had 18 kills and 11 digs. He also served two big aces late in the second game.
Taylor Crabb had 16 kills for LBSU, which now must wait to see if it will be in the Final Four as an at-large bid. Penn State and Loyola (Chicago) are already part of the tournament.
“It means a lot,” Sander said. “We’ve worked so hard all season. ... To have this happen to us and to go to the Final Four is just a blessing. It’s been a fun road, but we’re not done yet.”
Part of Saturday’s victory was forged the previous Thursday when the Cougars, down 2-0 in games, rallied to beat UCLA in five games.
It was a situation that allowed a little doubt to enter McGown’s thinking. It didn’t last.
“The boys just did what they’ve been doing all season long, which is to continue to stay in the moment and keep battling every single point,” McGown said.
For example, late in the third game, BYU botched a play at the net and it appeared as if LBSU, which had led by three points, would increase its lead. However, setter Ryan Boyce came out of nowhere, raising a hand to block the kill. Eventually, the point went the Cougars’ way.
“We stayed composed tonight as a team,” said BYU middle blocker Devin Young. “We never got discouraged. ... We picked each other up.”
Even Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe understood the ultimate difference between the two teams.
“They executed at the most crucial times, and they played very, very well,” he said.
Storylines BYU wins MPSF championship
R With a 3-0 sweep of Long Beach State, BYU clinches its first MPSF Tournament Championship since 2004.
• BYU’s Taylor Sander was named the tournament’s MVP. He finished Saturday with 15 kills.
• BYU’s Ben Patch finished with 18 kills, 11 digs and three blocks.