A record crowd of 1043 fans packed the Chiles center Thursday night and they were not disappointed as the Pilots volleyball team beat No. 11 BYU for the first time in history in a five set match.
With the three games to two win, the Pilots improve to 11-8 on the year and 4-3 in WCC play. For the cougars this was just their third loss of the season as they fell to 16-3 on the year and 5-2 in WCC play.
“I think that we have put in a lot of work and so far it has kind of been up and down and we have just tried to figure stuff out,” sophomore Reghan Pukis said as she grinned. “But I think tonight it just kind of finally clicked for us and we saw that that is how we can play so I think overall this was great for the rest of our season,”
The teams were extremely well matched, starting off early with long volleys and scoring back and forth. Senior Brittney Markwith and Sophomore Reghan Pukis stepped in with a critical block point to take the lead at 10-9. Although the Pilot’s kept their lead, the Cougars had the fans at their back, cheering “Go BYU” with every point and block, riling up the players.
The Pilots’ held the lead as senior Monica Gajda scored the game point to win the first set 25-22.
“They were all really competitive but we just had nothing to lose and it turned out in our favor,” senior Monica Gajda said.
BYU came out strong in the second set but the Pilots didn't let the score gap widen, keeping the score within two points. The two teams were neck and neck, the ball smacked down on the court on either side, back and forth as the audience went from rowdy excitement to quiet anticipation. Portland continued to trail BYU throughout the set as the Cougars kept aggressively blocking.
The end of the game was close as each team scored back and forth. But BYU came out on top, scoring to win the set 27-25.
The two teams took the court for the third set with Portland racking up 18 blocks and BYU with 16 blocks in the first two sets.
BYU came out strong in the third set to lead the Pilots 5-0 early on. The Pilots battled back to gain a slight lead and won the close set by a score of 25-22. This looked to be a turning point for the Pilots but BYU proved otherwise in the fourth set.
The well-matched teams went into the fourth set as fans began to stand in anticipation of the competition. The set started out like the others, with both teams scoring back and forth to keep the scoreboard close. But BYU pulled ahead, leading the Pilots 11-6. They continued to hit relentlessly and eventually beat the Pilots 25-17.
The teams went into their fifth set to determine the winner of the game. The atmosphere on the court and in the stands was high-strung with everyone waiting to see who would come out on top. Although the teams continued to stay well matched, the Pilots pulled to a two point lead at 8-6.
The score was tied at nine but the Cougars would score no more points in the set. The Pilots pulled ahead as senior Katie Sullivan scored, leading the Cougars 13-9. Sullivan scored the game point to win 15-9 as the fans erupted chants and sprang from their seats.
The players gathered at the center of the court and embraced each other after one of the biggest wins in program history.
Earning a win against one of the top 15 teams in the country could be a turning point in the Pilots’ season. But it is surely a sign of how far the program has come after a stint of rough seasons for the team.
“I am just excited because we have so much potential,” Gajda said. “I mean my freshman year was nothing like this so to get to senior year and actually beat BYU for the first time is great.”
The Pilots continue WCC play at 1 p.m. on Saturday as they face San Diego inthe Chiles Center.