This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Columbus, Ohio • The performance left Shawn Olmstead searching for words. And that's saying something, anyone who knows the BYU men's volleyball coach would agree.
Olmstead's third-seeded BYU team put together perhaps its best match of the season on Thursday night in the NCAA Tournament semifinals, and swept second-seeded Long Beach State 3-0 at St. John Arena to advance to the finals for the second straight year.
It will be a championship match rematch as well, because No. 1 Ohio State defeated No. 4 Hawaii in the second semifinal. The Buckeyes beat BYU 3-0 for the title last year at Penn State, and will be playing on their home court.
BYU will be an underdog. But that's a worry for another day.
"I am pretty speechless right now with this group," said Olmstead after the Cougars dominated a team that swept them on March 25 in Provo.
That win last month enabled the 49ers to tie BYU for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season championship and host the conference tournament, which they also won. But on this night, BYU was the better team, LBSU coach Alan Knipe admitted.
"It was a heavyweight fight as far as serving and passing were concerned, and we didn't handle it well," Knipe said.
BYU (26-4) certainly did.
The scores were 25-20, 25-18 and 25-23 as the Cougars hit .426 (anything over .300 is exceptional) and held LBSU (27-4) to .215 hitting.
The Cougars did it with their two-time All-American hitter, junior Ben Patch, healthy but watching from the sidelines the entire match. Tim Dobbert started at opposite and played so well after a shaky start with 11 kills and a block, and .474 hitting percentage.
Then there was fellow junior Brenden Sander, who had the match of his career. Sander hit .619 with 15 kills and added an ace for good measure.
"We have become a lot more of a team instead of individuals," Sander said of the difference between the Cougars who were swept by LBSU in the regular season and the ones who dazzled on Thursday.
The Cougars, who will play for their fourth NCAA volleyball title on Saturday but first since 2004, fell behind 4-1 in the first set and were looking jittery and out of rhythm before things changed. Sander was the catalyst, but every player contributed and the Cougars pulled away from a 12-all tie.
LBSU's TJ DeFalco, the MPSF and National Player of the Year, was nowhere near as dominant as he was in Provo. He finished with 12 kills and a .231 hitting percentage.
"We did a much better job defending the quick [set]," Olmstead said. "They tore us apart in Provo with the quick."
Jake Langlois' serving three straight aces got the Cougars going in the second set, and BYU's confidence grew when it broke from a 10-9 lead with four of the next five points. Joe Grosh's kill, his fourth of five, ended the set in BYU's favor.
"I don't think we did anything different, I just think we were super aggressive," Langlois said. "I don't know if it is a vulgar term, but 'balls to the wall.' We were trying to do that all night, and we did it, I feel like."
Long Beach started clicking in the third set, and led 19-14 after a DeFalco kill.
"We didn't play our best tonight," Knipe said. "It certainly took us a long time to get going."
With the probability of a fourth set staring them down, the Cougars responded. Junior setter Leo Durkin (34 assists) started the comeback with a block, Dobbert added a kill, and the Cougars caught a break when LBSU lost a point due to an illegal attack.
"I didn't believe some of the calls … but it wasn't the difference in the match tonight," Knipe said.
Sander had a kill to knot the score at 23, and Langlois delivered the biggest point of the night, his fourth ace. Sander then clinched it with his 15th kill. The Cougars scored 11 of the match's final 15 points.
"We're an amazing team when we play together," Dobbert said.
That was a word everyone could agree on Thursday.
R The third-seeded Cougars advance to the national championship match for the second straight year.
• Brenden Sander records 15 kills, Tim Dobbert adds 11 and BYU hits .426 in the semifinal match.
• BYU improves to 27-4 and avenges a sweep in Provo at the hands of Long Beach State on March 25.