Provo • Coach Chris McGown warned his No. 1-ranked BYU men's volleyball team that the first round of the playoffs is always difficult.
But nobody could have predicted just how difficult the Hawaii Warriors would make it for the Cougars in a MPSF quarterfinal match at Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday night.
The eighth-seeded Warriors were just a few points away from pulling off the upset of the year in the sport before BYU escaped with a 3-2 win to move into a semifinal match on Thursday, which will also be played in Provo, against UCLA.
"We expected a good team, and that is what we got," McGown said. "… Hawaii has basically been playing for their lives the last few weeks."
And then some.
The Cougars won the decisive fifth set 15-13 when a call went their way. Officials ruled that Hawaii's setter made a back row attack, which wiped away an apparent Warriors point and gave the BYU (23-4) the match.
"I thought it was the right call, just from what I saw," McGown said.
Hawaii coach Charlie Wade didn't seem too upset over the call when he emerged from the team's locker room after the match, saying, "They call 'em like they see 'em."
Wade said he knew the Warriors (11-17) would give BYU a good test because they have been playing better lately, and because they had some tactics the Cougars had not seen before.
"It was a helluva college volleyball match," Wade said.
BYU took the first set 25-19, and looked as if it was going to make quick work of the decided underdogs. But the Cougars hit an awful .160 in the second set (after hitting .684 in the first) and lost the set 25-20. Spurred by that burst of momentum, the Warriors claimed the third set 25-22.
With Player of the Year Taylor Sander getting back on track, BYU easily won the fourth set 25-12, but Hawaii didn't go away in the fifth. It was tied 12-12 before Brook Sedore made a service error.
"We just looked each other in the eye and said, 'Hey, we got this,' " BYU senior Russ Lavaja said. "That's what you live for, man, to have it come down to the end like it did."
With Sander not his usual self, Ben Patch led the Cougars with 25 kills, while Sander had 13 and Lavaja six.