2021 MPSF Men's Volleyball Championship

BYU Defends Home Turf, Wins MPSF Title

BYU Defends Home Turf, Wins MPSF Title

BYU defended it's home turf behind the powerful, game-changing abilities of MPSF Conference Player of the Year, Gabi Garcia Fernandez.

Apr 27, 2021 by Megan Kaplon
BYU Defends Home Turf, Wins MPSF Title

It’s been a big week for Gabi Garcia Fernandez. The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation named BYU’s senior opposite its conference player of the year for the second consecutive season last Wednesday. On Friday, he put down a team-high 12 kills in the Cougars’ MPSF tournament semifinal win over Grand Canyon, hitting .417 clip and adding four aces and four blocks. 

Those four aces all came one after another in the first set, taking BYU from a 16-9 lead to an even more dominant 20-9 lead. Then on Saturday, he contributed 10 kills, four blocks, four digs, and three aces to BYU’s sweep of Pepperdine to win the conference title, after which he was named tournament MVP. Those seven aces in two matches also put him even closer to breaking the career aces record at BYU — he’ll need five more to beat Taylor Sander’s record of 182.

“You can’t overlook the game-changer that is Gabi,” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said in the press conference after the championship match.

Watch the full replay of the MPSF championship final:

Replay: BYU vs Pepperdine

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Of course, many other players contributed to BYU’s flawless performance in the MPSF tournament. Outside hitter Zach Eschenberg joined Garcia Fernandez on the all-tournament team, along with setter Wil Stanley. Eschenberg led BYU with 13 kills in the final, making just two errors on 20 swings to hit .550. For his part, Stanley quarterbacked BYU to a 0.471 hitting percentage against Pepperdine and 0.390 versus Grand Canyon. Equally impressive was Felipe de Brito Ferreira’s errorless tournament run, finishing the pair of matches with 10 kills and zero errors in 13 swings (yep, do the math, that’s a .769 clip!). He also had 14 blocks, one solo.

Pepperdine advanced to Saturday’s championship match thanks to a first-round defeat of Stanford and a semifinal sweep over UCLA. Prior to the conference tournament, Pepperdine had not competed in almost a month due to COVID protocols, but that didn’t seem to handicap the Waves in the slightest. Against Stanford, the team hit .339, winning in four sets with 14 kills each from Spencer Wickens and Jacob Steele. Senior Austin Wilmot set a new career with a .647 hitting percentage (12-1-17). 

Check out the full results from the MPSF Championships!

The semifinal match gave Pepperdine redemption for its only loss of the season that didn’t come at the hands of BYU. Heading into Friday’s semis, Pepperdine and UCLA were 1-1 on the season, but the Waves secured their spot in the final in straight sets 25-20, 25-23, 26-24. Both teams hit over .400, but Pepperdine had the advantage from behind the service line, scoring four aces to UCLA’s one. UCLA also made 17 service errors in the match. UCLA’s Cole Ketrzynski, who was named to the all-tournament team, led the match with 17 kills, while the Bruins’ Kevin Kobrine had 15. 

Grand Canyon’s Camden Gianni rounded out the seven-man all-tournament team. The 6-5 redshirt freshman had 24 kills, hitting .697, in the Lopes’ opening-round match versus USC, and 15 kills against BYU in the semis. He finishes the season as GCU’s kills leader with 212.

Stanford’s opening round loss to Pepperdine might have marked the last match ever for the program. Back in July, the university announced it would cut men’s volleyball, along with 10 other varsity sports, following the 2020-21 academic year. Although they couldn’t make the epic Cinderella story some of us (guilty!) were hoping for, the Cardinal played well against Pepperdine in the quarterfinals. Sophomore Will Rottman led the match with 24 kills, a career-high, hitting .500, and fellow sophomore setter Nathan Leitzke set the team to its second-highest hitting percentage of the season (.291). Freshman Luke Turner had 13 kills, three kills, and a block, and his classmate Aidan Peters added six kills, three digs, and two blocks. Junior libero Justin Lui, who is bizarrely still a redshirt freshman by NCAA eligibility rules, had eight digs, while senior middle Kyler Presho played in a hand in all five of the team’s blocks on the night. 

The tournament title meant that BYU had officially punched it’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. (The Cougars didn’t make the cut in 2019 and then in 2020, nobody was playing coming May due to the coronavirus pandemic.) In Monday’s announcement of the NCAA Tournament field, BYU earned the No. 2 seed, meaning the Cougars will enjoy a bye into the national semifinals. Hawaii was awarded the No. 1 seed, despite a five-set loss to UCSB in the Big West tournament championship match on Saturday. The MPSF’s Pepperdine secured an at-large bid to the tournament. The Waves will play Big West champ UCSB in the opening round on Tuesday, May 4.