Men's volleyball

BYU men's volleyball kicks off 2013 season with high expectations

2013-01-04T00:30:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:30Z BYU men's volleyball kicks off 2013 season with high expectationsJared Lloyd - Daily Herald Daily Herald
January 04, 2013 12:30 am  • 

Everyone knows the expectations when a team kicks off the season ranked No. 2 in the country.

But this is BYU — and in men's volleyball, the expectation for the Cougars is always to end up as the national champions.

"We want to win the title," said BYU head coach Chris McGown. "We talk about it and that's our goal. At some point, you have to be a good team to do that. Teams hardly ever sneak up to win the championship. Good teams get ranked high and we want to be a good team."

The Cougars, who kick off the 2012 season Friday night against Hawaii at the Smith Fieldhouse (7 p.m., BYUtv), came in behind the defending national champions from Cal-Irvine in the preseason voting.

The No. 2 ranking isn't a surprise, since BYU finished 2012 with a 24-7 record and ranked No. 4, but McGown said his team had one key lesson to learn from missing out on last year's Final Four.

"We've talked a lot about how there are no little things in this sport," he explained. "If we'd won one more match in conference, we would've gone to the Final Four most likely.

"We had matches that we gave away, ones that came down to two or three swings. That changed the nature of the postseason for us. The margins are that thin, so we tried to hammer that home to the guys. I think they've taken it to heart."

If the Cougars can apply that mentality, then they have have the talent in place to have a special season.

Leading the way is returning All-American junior outside hitter Taylor Sander, who led the team with 435 kills and 44 aces in 2012.

While his ability and athleticism are impossible to miss, McGown said he thinks his top player learned a lot from spending much of the offseason working out with the US national team.

"The biggest jump he made was what he took away in terms of the mental aspect of the game," the BYU head coach said. "He knows how hard those guys work and how hard it is to play at that level.

"He also got some confidence. We've been talking to him about the nature of being the best player on the team and there is also some leadership assumed. This year he has really embraced it. He understands that guys look at him on how to act and how to play."

Sander may be the big name, but the Cougars are loaded with returning talent in senior middle blocker Russ Lavaja, sophomore libero Jaylen Reyes and sophomore outside hitter Josue Rivera.

"I think Lavaja is going to have a great year," McGown said. "He's playing really well. We have three returning guys at the other outside hitter spot and all of them are playing better this year than they did last year.

"Having Reyes back at libero is big. That guy has a work ethic unlike any other so having him back is huge for the process. He's super-energetic and so I think he's going to be great in firing us up and keeping the energy levels high."

BYU will also have senior Ryan Boyce take over as the starting setter. He started some matches in 2012 for the Cougars and got a lot of experience, so McGown's expecting big things in the middle.

BYU still has voids to fill, since former All-Americans Robbie Stowell and Futi Tavana graduated, but McGown said to keep an eye on junior Devin Young in the middle and highly-touted freshman Ben Patch as they could play big roles.

"He's probably going to be a big story," he said. "He's physically as gifted as anyone we've seen at BYU in a long time. He touches close to 12 feet, he's fast, and he has such good range. He just hasn't played much volleyball yet. He's had to catch up but he has the potential to be phenomenal."

McGown said he really likes the chemistry he sees from his team heading into the year and he believes that will be a big positive. The biggest question mark in his mind is whether his team can maintain the necessary intensity throughout matches, particularly when they run into rough stretches.

But with all that ability, Cougar fans can expect another year of exciting action on the volleyball court.

"Collegiate men's volleyball is almost the best level to watch as a fan," McGown said. "There is enough speed and athleticism that it's really exciting. There are rallies and for me, it's this wonderful display of cooperation on the floor. And then there is the raw athleticism with some of our guys that can jump and the speed of the game."

BYU starts the year with 10 straight home games stretching nearly halfway into February. McGown said the team sees some positives from not having to leave Provo for the first month-and-a-half.

"It helps us work through things," he explained. "During the first month, there is plenty that is messed up that need to be fixed. When you don't have a travel day, it means you get a full dedicated day of practice. It gives us time to make the changes we need to make."

It all kicks off for the Cougars Friday against the Warriors.

"Last year they gave us everything we could handle in Hawaii," McGown said. "The team has turned over a lot of its roster, so they have guys that we've never seen play before. We're going to have to play really principled volleyball and stick to the fundamentals. They will play hard and they have a nice collection of players."

The first serve is set to take place at 7 p.m. in a match that can be seen on BYUtv.

-- Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd is also the beat writer for the BYU football team, the columnist for the Cougar men’s basketball team and covers a variety of Utah Valley high school athletics. He can be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.
Read more from  Jared Lloyd here.

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