Chicago • BYU owned Stanford in men’s volleyball during the regular season and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, beating the Cardinal three times.
But with the stakes at their highest Thursday night in an NCAA tournament semifinal at Gentile Arena, Stanford got past its season-long nemesis.
NCAA volleyball semis » Stanford 3, BYU 2
» Despite a season-high 28 kills by four-time All-American Taylor Sander, the Cougars lose the match, falling 15-12 in the decisive fifth set.
» BYU downed Stanford three times this season, but the Cardinal won the right to play in the national championship match.
» Brian Cook led Stanford with 19 kills and the Cardinal overcame match point twice in the fourth set.
But just barely.
The Cardinal advanced to Saturday night’s national championship match with a thrilling five-set win over the No. 1 ranked Cougars. The scores were 25-18, 21-25, 22-25, 29-27 and 15-12 as BYU started slowly, then won the next two sets.
"It had to be one of the best semifinals in this tournament in a long time," BYU coach Chris McGown said.
The Cougars had match point twice in the fourth set, but couldn’t put the Cardinal away for the fourth time this season.
In the fifth set, BYU led 9-7, but Stanford reeled off six straight points and the Cougars never regained the advantage. Two of BYU’s best players, outside hitter Taylor Sander and middle blocker Michael Hatch, were injured on back-to-back points in the fifth set, with Sander tweaking his knee and Hatch turning an ankle.
Sander, a four-time All-America selection, continued to play, but saw his spectacular career end without winning a national title. He was named the AVCA National Player of the Year at a banquet in Chicago on Wednesday night.
"We should have put it away in the fourth set," Sander said.
Stanford will play the winner of Thursday night’s late Penn State-Loyola Chicago match for the championship Saturday.
Sander had 28 kills, a season-high, and four service aces in the match that lasted two hours and 35 minutes.
All-American outside hitter Brian Cook led Stanford with 19 kills, including six in the decisive fifth set.
Sander had just two kills in the fifth set.
Stanford out-hit BYU .333 to .275 and libero Grant Delgado had 19 digs.
Last Saturday, BYU swept Stanford 25-23, 25-22 and 25-22 in front of 4,367 at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, but the Cougars couldn’t carry that momentum into Thursday’s match against the Cardinal, which swept Erskine College at Gentile Arena on Tuesday.
Stanford is back in the championship match for the first time since it won the national title in 2010.
The Cougars dropped to 4-1 in NCAA Tournament semifinal matches. Last year, the Cougars fell to UC Irvine in the NCAA Tournament championship match at UCLA.
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