LOS ANGELES -- They may be from altitude, but they bring altitude, too.
The high-leaping duo of junior Taylor Sander and super freshman Ben Patch, a remarkable one-two punch for Brigham Young, led the top-ranked Cougars into the title match of the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship with a sweep of Penn State on Thursday night.
“They kind of carried us offensively,” BYU coach Chris McGown said.
The 25-21, 25-16, 25-22 victory saw the two blasters combine for a combined 29 kills in 54 attempts with just two errors each and 12 of BYU’s 31 digs as their quickness, explosiveness and tenacity put them into Saturday night’s championship match against UC Irvine.
“They certainly throw enough at you. They’re a handful,” Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said of the Cougars, who had three times as many blocks as his team and more than doubled its hitting percentage.
Now the men’s volleyball world has the matchup everyone has been anticipating and, frankly, expecting all season, the Cougars from the high air of the Wasatch Mountains and the Anteaters from SoCal.
BYU won both their meetings this season in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.
“I think it’s a whole new match. I suppose we can take a little bit of confidence in that we know we can do this,” McGown said. “So that’s in the backs of our minds.
“More than anything we’re just trying to stay humble about it and stay hungry and have the appropriate amount of respect for how good they are, ‘cause they’re really deep and phenomenally talented.”
“It’s going to be a very good match,” Pavlik said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it went five.”
That would be different than a Thursday that saw both losers get swept. Penn State (23-8), like Loyola in the first match against UCI, gave BYU all it could handle at times, especially in the third set. But in the end, the Cougars just had too many weapons.
Sander, who is from nearby Huntington Beach, had 17 kills in 27 swings and hit .556. Nine of those kills came in the third set.
“It was a good match by us,” Sander said. “We kind of struggled in the third set [trailing throughout until taking the lead for good at 22-21 on a kill by Sander]. We were able to battle through that and that’s kind of what our team has done all season.”
Sander also had seven digs and three block assists. His gamesmanship and awareness have to rank at the top of the men’s college game.
“Taylor’s one of the top young players in the country right now and he does everything very, very well,” Pavlik said. “You’ve got to find ways to slow him down but you know he’s going to come up with a big kill here or there and like any player of the year he’s going to turn it on when they need him the most.
“His future is very bright and him in a USA jersey someday is going to be very good for us.”
Patch simply killed Penn State time after time by terminating out-of-system plays with big blasts.
“Overall he did a lot of really nice things on the night,” McGown said. “Offensively he was really good and got in good spots at the net as a defender and then just took a lot of smart swings. We set him a lot of bail-out sets, ‘Here you are, it’s up high, go get it’ and most every one of the swings he took was an intelligent swing. I was really proud of him.”
Patch, clearly one of the best freshmen the sport has seen in at least the last 10 years, had 12 kills in 27 attempts and hit .370, had five digs, a solo block, and five block assists.
“He’s going to be the prototypical opposite that everyone would love to have on their team,” Pavlik said.
Josue Rivera added five kills and had five digs, and Russ Lavaja also had five kills.
Aaron Russell led Penn State with 13 kills on 34 attempts but had seven errors. Brother Peter had eight kills and hit .300, but their team combined for just two blocks.
“We did a lot of things really well,” McGown said. “I was really proud of our defensive effort. I thought we had a lot of nice touches at the net and as the match went on we were able to convert a lot of those touches.
“We would have liked to be a little cleaner from the service line, but it was a match we had to feel our way through.”
BYU did struggle on serves, notching six aces but 14 errors. However, Penn State had three aces and 12 errors.
“We missed a lot of serves but we served tough when we needed to,” Sander said. “That helped get them out of rhythm and get three blockers up to good spots.”
Ultimately, BYU wore Penn State down.
“This match was fairly emblematic of how we played all season long,” McGown continued. “Just kind of grinding out wins.”
Originally published in July 2013