Provo • Throughout Saturday night’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men’s volleyball championship match at Smith Fieldhouse, BYU coach Chris McGown had an “overwhelming feeling” that the Cougars were going to win, even when red-hot Stanford took leads in the second and third sets.
The coach just didn’t start the match that way.
“My sentiment the entire time was, ‘Hey, we got this,’ ” said McGown, who was so nervous before the match, he acknowledged, that he had his daughter sit on his lap on the bench to steel his nerves.
Despite a few rocky moments in all three sets, the Cougars delivered on their coach’s confidence, sweeping Stanford 3-0 to extend their home-match winning streak to 26 in front of 4,367 loud and boisterous fans.
The scores were 25-23, 25-22 and 25-22 as No. 1 seed BYU finished the tournament having swept all three foes, No. 8 USC, No. 4 UC Santa Barbara and No. 3 Stanford, which saw its 13-match winning streak snapped.
“It is great to be at home,” McGown said. “We play really well here.”
Fittingly, BYU’s four-time All-America Taylor Sander shined in the final home appearance of his spectacular career, recording 15 kills and a block and carrying the club with some laser-like putaways at the ends of the second and third sets.
“It was just fun out there,” said Sander, who jumped on the scorer’s table a la Michael Jordan in the 1998 NBA Finals to give props to the crowd. “That’s all I can say to describe it.”
It was also tense, with Stanford (22-8) refusing to wilt in the face of the most intimidating crowd in men’s college volleyball. The Cardinal started poorly before settling in at the end of the first set, and never trailed by more than four points in any of the last two sets.
“They stuck with us the whole way,” said senior Devin Young, a former walk-on, who also played his final home match. “For them to battle like they did, against this crowd, is incredible. We kept expecting them to fold. Their setter [James Shaw] went down at the end of the second, and they came back in the third battling just as hard. It was really tough to put them away.”
Shaw, Stanford’s All-America setter, suffered a deep cut on his left leg after crashing into the scorer’s table, but returned for the third set and helped the Cardinal jump to a 6-3 lead. But the Cougars rallied from a 17-15 deficit just when it appeared this one was headed for a fourth set, and when the mercurial junior from Puerto Rico, Josue Rivera, slammed home his fourth kill to make it 24-20, the Cougars and their crowd started celebrating.
“We just couldn’t get that one extra point, that one dig, that one block, that could turn the corner for us,” Stanford coach John Kosty said.
Remarkably, the Cougars (21-8) did it with a backup setter, sophomore Robbie Sutton, who made his first career start last week against USC after regular setter Tyler Heap injured his ankle in the regular-season finale at UCLA. Sutton (29 assists) made the all-tournament team, along with Young and Stanford’s Brian Cook (17 kills) and Shaw (36 assists), Pepperdine’s Matt West and UCSB’s Jake Stahl. Sander was the tournament MVP for the second-straight year.
“It is hard to overstate it,” McGown said of Sutton’s contribution. “It is just an amazing story. … There were times when he was getting it done on sheer willpower.”
The win most likely wraps up the No. 2 seed for BYU and a bye into the semifinals of next week’s NCAA Tournament, which will be held at the Gentile Arena on the campus of Loyola University Chicago. Top-ranked Loyola (27-1) swept BYU in a season opener in Chicago and will get the No. 1 seed after winning its conference tournament Saturday night.
The seedings and pairings will be announced Sunday morning.
Stanford will almost certainly get an at-large bid. The real mystery will be which team gets the second at-large bid, the MPSF’s Pepperdine or Lewis, which fell to Loyola in the MIVA final but managed to take one set from the Ramblers.
MPSF title game • BYU 3, Stanford 0
• The Cougars sweep all three opponents in the MPSF conference tournament en route to winning their second straight tourney title.
• In front of 4,367 at Smith Fieldhouse, BYU wins its 26th straight home match and ends Stanford’s 13-match winning streak.
• Four-time All-American Taylor Sander of BYU records 15 kills in his final home match.