Cala's Debut Spells Pepperdine's Demise

Two years after defecting from his homeland of Cuba at the age of 19, Yosleyder Cala found himself on the volleyball court at BYU. Friday night against #1-ranked Pepperdine, Cala let the volleyball world know that he has arrived.

In the first game of the match, BYU lost to Pepperdine 20-30, due to a dominating performance by the Waves. A restless Smith Fieldhouse crowd of 5,395 waited anxiously for a chance to see the former Cuban national team starter step onto the court for the first time as a Cougar. With the second game in doubt, the crowd rose to its feet as the 6-foot-9 Cuban wonder stepped onto the court. It was not long before the crowd would rise and roar again.

Pepperdine served right at Cala, hoping to catch him cold. The Waves' plan failed when the serve landed wide. After a BYU sideout, the Cougars serve again, and this time Rob Neilson set a perfect pass to the right side of the net where Cala was ready to pounce.

The crowd saw what was coming and jumped to their feet as Cala leapt high into the air, seemingly escaping the bonds of gravity, and boomed his first Cougar attack attempt through the Pepperdine block for a kill. That brought the house down and effectively ended the match for the Waves.

The momentum of the game rapidly switched as a confident Pepperdine team froze like a deer caught in the headlights. Cala single-handedly changed the entire game with his presence and on court performance. BYU would go on to sweep the next three games 30-28, 30-22, and 30-21.

Cala looked confident and instilled that confidence in his teammates. So what was the difference?

"Maybe the attitude," said Cala. "Everybody starts thinking that we have to beat this team and push it to the end and you see a different team. You saw how we came back. They've seen my play and I was kind of always happy and trying to push my guys and make them happy. Sometimes we make a lot of mistakes and I always try to show my support for my guys. I think they feel a little better when I came in because I got a block and it makes them feel good."

The big crowd and the chants heard in his support as he entered onto the court did not phase the already popular Cougar.

"I know a lot of people here at BYU and they were saying they were going to come watch and be there, so I just say, ‘Okay, I'll be ready; I'll be ready for you,'" said Cala. "I was just excited because when you see BYU playing really good it makes me happy. That is what I like to see. I like to see everyone happy, and for me to be like a nervous guy when I play—no never, not at all, I'm just excited to play and I started kind of slow but I feel good."

Cala had to sit on the sidelines for BYU's first eight matches while he waited to be cleared by the NCAA. He watched his teammates go 7-1 in that period. Cala knew his time was coming.

"Sometimes it's hard and sometimes it's not to be out," said Cala. "It depends on how ready you are and how focused you are for the game."

Cala finished the match with 10 kills and four hitting errors on 21 attempts.

"I feel good," Cala said. "I feel good because they were number one in their rank and we were number two. I just see my teammates and they helped me out a lot and I'm just excited. They helped me and I helped them and we got it."

Cala feels that he will get his rhythm, power and feel back after going two years since his last competitive match. After observing the game tonight, fans may wonder what more there is to get back.

"I think my game is going to be better," said Cala. "It's always good to play a little more and spend more time playing. I think then maybe I'll get better. I'm okay that I'm on the bench because I've been playing volleyball all my life, and after a few years I haven't touched a volleyball so it's kind of like, ‘Okay I can wait for my time. It's going to come."

"Those 10 points that I made, that was good as long as we are winning. Maybe next time I'm going to make two points in the game. We just got to keep on winning. I just have to do what I have to do to win."


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