Provo • BYU sophomore outside hitter Cyrus Fa’alogo, a product of West Jordan’s Copper Hills High who transferred from Long Beach City College, has played a lot of positions in his short Division I college volleyball career.
Thursday night, he played the role of unlikely hero.
Fa’alogo played the best match of his life, recording 12 kills and a .611 hitting percentage, as the top-seeded Cougars swept USC 3-0 in front of a mildly disappointing crowd of 2,071 at Smith Fieldhouse in an MPSF tournament semifinal match.
The scores were 25-17, 25-17, 25-22 as BYU (21-6) handled the Trojans (8-20) for the third time this season.
“Big time match there by Cy,” said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead.
Of course, he had plenty of help.
Freshman sensation Gabi Garcia Fernandez and senior superstar Brenden Sander also had 12 kills apiece and the Cougars hit a sparkling ..529 as a team. The sixth-seeded Trojans, who upset No. 3 seed Pepperdine to make it to the semifinals, didn’t have a chance after hitting a measly .205.
“I really liked the way our guys came out,” said Olmstead, whose team had a bye last weekend and was playing for the first time in nearly two weeks. “I thought our offense was doing a really nice job, clicking on all cylinders. Our passing was pretty good and we found our rhythm from the service line.”
The only suspense came in the third set when the Cougars got a bit sloppy and USC jumped out to leads of 13-10 and 17-14. But Garcia Fernandez righted BYU with a pair of kills and a service ace and Sander took over down the stretch as he recorded four kills after USC took a 20-18 lead and then the Cougars won it on a USC attack error.
On the third set what turned it around: “I think the guys were like, ‘OK, enough is enough,’” Olmstead said. “They knew they had to kinda turn it up a bit. We got some good pressure from the service line to get them out of system where they couldn’t get some tough swings, and we were able to get it from there.”
Fa’alogo did most of his damage in the first two sets. He was 5 for 5 on kill attempts in the first set and 5 of 6 in the second set. He cooled off to go 2 of 7 in the third set, but by then Sander, Garcia Fernandez and BYU’s block of Price Jarman and Felipe de Brito Ferr had taken over.
“This week, honestly, in practice, after losing to UCLA, we came in and there was a different feeling and focus,” Fa’alogo said. “After every practice, a teammate would come up to me and tell me ‘good job,’ and that really helps me. I just felt like we were all focused.”
Growing up in a state that does not have volleyball as a sanctioned high school sport, Fa’alogo learned to play multiple positions at the club level and it paid off handsomely.
“He plays the game. Cyrus, you ask him, he has probably played every position throughout his career as a volleyball player. So he has a really good volleyball IQ. The guys enjoy his energy, his vibe, and when Cyrus gets going good things like that happen. We see it a lot at practice,” Olmstead said. “He has to make good decisions. He doesn’t fly like these guys, like Brenden and Gabi, so he has to make good, smart decisions, and he has done a really good job there.”
In the first semifinal, No. 2 seed UCLA defeated Concordia Irvine 3-1 with scores of 26-28, 25-21, 26-24 and 25-18. The Cougars and Bruins will meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at Smith Fieldhouse for the conference tournament title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.