Sunday, May 5, 2013

NCAA Men | #1 BYU meets it match against UC Irvine

Anteaters win second straight NCAA men’s title; fourth in seven years
#2 UC Irvine (25-7) 3, #1 BYU (26-5) 0
(25-23, 25-22, 26-24)

LOS ANGELES—Substance flummoxed flash.

UC Irvine's Conor Hughes attacks against BYU in the 2013 Men's D1 Volleyball Championship
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Before a loud, colorful crowd of more than 6,000 in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, second-seeded UC Irvine upset top seed BYU in three tight sets, proving once again that solid fundamentals can overcome crowd-pleasing power.

The power was provided by BYU outside hitter Taylor Sander, who led all players with 20 kills. The All-American junior was unstoppable throughout the match—except when it counted.

The fundamentals came courtesy Irvine’s serving and passing. On offense, Anteater passers delivered quality balls to senior setter Chris Austin, who dished to three different hitters: Zack La Cavera, Kevin Tillie and Connor Hughes. Each had 11 kills, and previously-unheralded Hughes was named Most Outstanding Player.

On defense, UC Irvine’s servers kept errors to a minimum and sent a steady diet of curves and floaters across the net. BYU’s setters struggled to reach bad passes, leaving them with little option other than to feed Sander. With each of the three sets on the line, Irvine’s defense could key on powerful Sander, often sending triple blocks his way.

BYU—which had earlier defeated UCI twice this season—won’t soon forget the end of the third set. After reaching set point at 24-21, Irvine captured the final five points of the match, including stuff blocks on the final three.

UC Irvine setter Chris Austin
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
Cougar head coach Chris McGown was trying to become only the second son in any sport in NCAA history to follow his father in winning a national title at the same school. Carl McGown, who was on his son’s bench in Pauley, led BYU to the championship in 1999.

Carl McGown’s shadow is even longer, though. The system he helped develop has been adopted and modified by some of the nation’s most successful coaches—men and women—including Washington’s Jim McLaughlin, and current or former US Olympic coaches like Marv Dunphy, Hugh McCutcheon, Karch Kiraly and John Speraw. Speraw is head coach of both UCLA and the USA men’s national team; last season, he coached UC Irvine to the national crown. Not surprisingly, first year Anteaters coach David Kniffin continues using the system McGown pioneered.

Men’s collegiate volleyball often features a number of unforced errors, especially serves and attacks that sail long. But both teams played disciplined ball, hitting for strong average, especially on quick attacks to the middle blockers.

In the end, however, BYU needed at least one other go-to weapon. Sander was the best player on the court, but UC Irvine left as the best team.

  • Both schools brought loud, vocal cheering sections. BYU fans wore plenty of white (its school colors and white and blue), while Irvine distributed a couple thousand gold t-shirts for its fans making the short trip north from Orange County. With men’s volleyball off the radar in much of the country, it was nice to see (and hear) a fair amount of sustained passion all night.
  • Irvine’s mascot is an Anteater, and its fans’ cheers can take getting used to. We couldn’t help but blink each time we heard “Let’s go, ‘Eaters!”
  • At least two former Washington Huskies were in the crowd: Kindra Carlson and Jenna Hagglund. Both played professionally in France this winter; Hagglund is currently training with the US National Team in Anaheim with fellow Huskies Courtney Thompson, Tama Miyashiro and Becky Perry. Thompson and Miyashiro were both members of the US Olympic team in London.


  1. UC IRVINE plays exceptionally well and they deserve the NCAA title!!! Back to back national champions!!!! EATER NATION!!!!!!!!

  2. What a game! However, your synopsis is pretty short sided. Since it was the third meeting of the year and BYU won the first 2, you can't really say that "substance flummoxed flash" or "proving once again that solid fundamentals can overcome crowd-pleasing power".

    Well, you can say it, but you'd prove your ignorance. Both teams were great to watch and both teams played exceptionally well (in the Championship game and all season).

    Instead, you can say that two solidly fundamental and crowd-pleasing powerhouses showed substance and flash in the final match. UC Irvine won this match-up! Congratulations, Anteaters!

    1. You make many good points. Both these fine teams know the importance of serving and passing. On this night, Irvine did it better.


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