"It had to be one of the best semifinals that's been played in this tournament in a long, long time," BYU head coach Chris McGown said. "We're clearly disappointed with the result, but I thought that we did everything we could. We played as hard as we possibly could, and ultimately they got a few plays that went their way."
It was the fourth time the teams played each other this season, with the Cougars (21-9) taking the first three matchups before the Cardinal (24-8) claimed the win on Thursday. The teams faced each other only five days prior to the NCAA semifinal, with BYU winning a 3-0 decision in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match.
Senior All-American and American Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Year Taylor Sander recorded a season-high 28 kills on the night, just one shy of his career high. Sander also had four aces, giving him sole ownership of the BYU rally-scoring era record for service aces in a season with 55. With 56 attempts against Stanford, he also passed Rob Stowell to claim the BYU rally-scoring era career attempts record (3,464).
Sander was aided by Josue Rivera’s 10 kills and 11 digs, his third double-double of the season. Setter Robbie Sutton had career highs of 51 assists and eight digs. Senior Devin Young led in blocking with seven, including a career-high two solo blocks.
Stanford had three players in double figures for both kills and digs.
Starting the match with an 8-3 deficit, BYU struggled to gain its footing through the first set. Stanford posted 20 kills during the set to the Cougars’ 12, riding a .679 hit clip to a 25-18 Cardinal victory in the first frame.
The Cougars found their rhythm in the second set, with Michael Hatch, Tim Dobbert and Rivera teaming up for BYU’s first block of the match. Sander added an ace for a 3-0 Cougar lead. A Stanford service error launched a 6-0 BYU run, highlighted by back-to-back blocks from Rivera, Sutton and Young, to give the Cougars a 10-3 lead.
The BYU block continued to prove hard to beat, with the Cougars collecting 5.5 in the second set. Stanford put together a 4-0 run with BYU at set point, but Sander’s seventh kill of the set finished it off 25-21 to tie the overall score 1-1.
Breaking out of a 3-3 tie in the third set, the Cougars jumped ahead 7-4 on two kills each from Sander and Young. BYU led by as many as six before a Stanford 6-1 scoring streak cut the lead to 17-16. The Cardinal tied the score at 20 on a kill, but Sander stepped up with two kills to lead BYU to the 25-22 set-three win and 2-1 overall lead. Sander went into the fourth set with 20 kills hitting .432.
Tie scores were the name of the game in the fourth set. After BYU held the early lead in the frame, Stanford fought back for a 7-7 tie. The Cardinal’s Steven Irvin and Spencer Haly pushed Stanford into a 12-11 lead on a block. A Dobbert kill tied the score at 15, giving Sander the chance to throw down a kill from the back row and take the lead back 16-15. Tied again at 19, BYU grabbed the lead when Irvin hit the ball into the net after a long rally.
With BYU fighting to finish the match and Stanford fighting for a fifth set, the teams exchanged points until a kill and ace by the Cardinal wrapped up the set 29-27.
Rivera powered through a Stanford block to put BYU ahead 4-2 in the fifth set. BYU stayed one step ahead until two kills put the Cardinal ahead 10-9. Down 12-9, the Cougars got a break on a Stanford service error, but couldn’t capitalize on the free point. The Cougars continued to battle before the Cardinal ended the match with a kill for the 15-12 win.