PROVO — No. 2 BYU was almost too welcoming to the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal. The Cougars dropped the opening set before finding a way to extend the match to a fifth and final set in what was ultimately a dramatic BYU victory at the Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday night (23-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-21,15-13).
Neither team could find a way to grab momentum and run off with a decisive set. The back-and-forth play led to tensions running high in the stands, leaving fans cheering one moment and gasping the next.
"If you look at the stats, it's one of those games where they couldn't stop us and we couldn't stop them," senior Ryan Boyce said. "We need to do a better job at coming out and getting a lead and then extending that lead. Volleyball is a game of runs, but you just can't let them have runs like that."
In a tightly contested match, BYU's 17 service errors were almost too much to overcome.
"Last night we served pretty good and we didn't have too many errors," Boyce said. "I couldn't tell you what's going on. I'm not in everyone else's head, but I felt like we were pretty composed tonight. For the most part we fought and played hard. Sometimes stuff like that just happens.
"This is the hardest part of the season," Boyce added. "We're right in the middle. Your body starts breaking down a little bit. You're tired, but for sure you want to be playing well at the end of the year. So we're really trying to battle right now and we have to battle in practice. Our practices are harder than our games sometimes."
Saturday's match was nearly put out of reach in the second set. Following a point awarded for an illegal substitution and BYU's Jaylen Reyes being carded, the Cougars faced a 23-20 deficit. Mustering up one of their largest runs of the night — and certainly one of the most important — BYU rallied to score five straight and take the set 25-23.
"That was completely on us as a coaching staff," BYU coach Chris McGown said. "I told them at halftime that, 'Despite our best efforts to sabotage this set for you guys, you came back and won.' You get caught up in the moment and you forgot you made this sub early in the set and that's where they called us for illegal substitution.
"It was unbelievable really. I was so proud of the guys," McGown said. "We dug a big hole for them, (and) then Jaylen let his emotions get the best of him and got carded. That's our first card of the season. Usually I like to be the one to get carded, but we gave up that point and we gave up a point on the sub. But just so much character and grit and determination. We handicapped them a little bit but they found a way."
BYU will travel to Southern California next weekend to take on UC Irvine and UC San Diego.