BYU men's volleyball freshman opposite hitter Ben Patch has introduced himself to the Cougar fans this season with powerful, electrifying kills — 320 of them total so far this season.
But few probably know another of Patch's passions: Ceramics.
"I like being a potter," Patch said. "I’ve done that for a long time. I just throw on the wheel."
BYU junior All-American outside hitter Taylor Sander said the other Cougars let the freshman hear it a little bit.
"We tease him about being into weird stuff," Sander said. "But we love him for that. He’s a fun kid, easy to to get along with."
But according to BYU head coach Chris McGown, one of Patch's best characteristics is how good-natured he is.
"He goes to international tournaments and he’s best friends with all of the guys on the other team by the end of the weekend," McGown said. "He loves people and that’s who he is. He’s always having fun, always has a smile on his face, always laughing about something. He takes all of the ribbing and grief we give him in stride and with a smile the whole time."
While Patch's hobbies might earn him some teasing, his game for the No. 1-ranked team in the country is increasingly drawing a very different reaction.
"I was down at UCLA last weekend and I was talking to their coach, John Speraw," McGown said. "Ben was hitting a ball in warmups and you could see John raised his eyebrows when he saw where the ball was coming from. When you first watch him, you see he’s long, he jumps a ton and he’s hitting balls really high above the net."
Sander said it's amazing to see how far the freshman has progressed over the course of the season.
"I remember when he first got in the gym," the junior said. "He was kind of soft, not super-competitive and he was kind of star-struck about being in college. It’s been fun to see him develop into a guy who is a competitor. It’s cool to see him getting better each week, turning into a really good player."
Patch, for his part, knew he had a long way to go as he started his college career.
"I’m still a raw volleyball player and I hope I don’t hit the ceiling anytime soon," Patch said. "I want to just keep getting better and working hard. I feel I’ve gotten better at some things, but I see many that I need to get better at."
His path to joining one of the best college volleyball teams in the country had humble beginnings.
"I started playing city rec volleyball, then eventually played with the girls volleyball team at Provo High School," the freshman recalled. "People in Utah knew I was playing volleyball and I felt everyone in the community wanted me to succeed. It’s something I wouldn’t change because I think playing with the girls made me a better player."
McGown said there's no doubt Patch would be even better if he'd been playing volleyball longer.
"The more high-quality repetitions you get, the better you are going to be," the Cougar coach said. "He hasn’t had an opportunity for a ton of those. He’s had to go play club other places and they were on teams that fit him in where they could. What he’s been able to do is remarkable."
Before the season began, McGown said Patch was incredibly talented but raw and inexperienced.
"He's incredibly talented but raw and inexperienced," McGown repeated. "He’s made wonderful strides. I wrote him an email today pointing out ways to get better but in the last paragraph I told him that every day I’m amazed with the progress he has made during the season. He’s doing so many things well and getting better all the time. And he still has unreal amounts of upside."
Now the freshman is playing a huge role in helping BYU take its game to another level.
"He brings a good vibe to the team," Sander said. "He’s a guy that is always positive and fun to be with. Everything that he is bringing is positive. He works hard in practice, which is something that shows your character."
Patch isn't ready to take any credit. He pointed out he's just trying to play his role for the Cougars.
"We’re all trying our best," he said. "You do your part and hopefully you win. I try to do what I can to contribute but it’s not one person or two or three. It’s a team sport and it takes everyone on the court."
But McGown said the with a hitter of the caliber of Sander, it's key to have another weapon on the other side.
"We’ve had wonderful production from his spot," the coach said. "We knew it was going to be an important spot because teams were going to want to gang up on Taylor. If he is productive, teams can’t focus on one or two of our guys. Having that worry really opens up the rest of the offense."
With those two and so much other talent — Josue Rivera, Ryan Boyce, Russ Levaja, Jaylen Reyes, Devin Young and others — this has the potential be a special year for BYU.
But since Patch is planning on leaving for an LDS mission in the fall, there is a sense of urgency to make the most of it.
"After I decided not to stay for two years with Taylor, I knew I needed to work that much harder and want it that much more," Patch said. "This is such a good year and I’m going to do everything I can to get this team as far as possible before I go on a mission."
The Cougars complete the regular season this weekend and Patch hopes to help keep the team building into the postseason.
"We are just going to keep pushing and working hard," Patch said. "These last two matches are good matches and it is going to take all we’ve got. We really want to win these two matches to get us rolling into the MPSF tournament."
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.