The BYU men's volleyball team enters today's first-round contest against USC in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament right where it wants to be — but not really thrilled with how it got there.
The Cougars won the conference title and that means they get to enjoy home-court advantage with no one really wanting to face BYU in Provo.
But on the flip side, the Cougars are reeling after four straight losses.
"We talked about it and gave them some quotes from Viktor Frankl about how the single greatest freedom you have is to choose your attitude regardless of the circumstances," BYU head coach Chris McGown said. "We said what attitude do we have going forward? We've had a couple of tough weekends but here are all the good things we have going for us. We're still the No. 1 seed in the tournament and we're playing the rest of the matches here in the Smith Fieldhouse."
Cougar senior Taylor Sander is still confident in his team — but he's also ready to get back on the winning track.
"I'm a competitor and I hate losing," Sander said. "I enjoy the things that you learn from losing but it's something that fuels me. It fuels our team. We're hungry for a win. We haven't won in a while, and it's going to be nice to be back where we're comfortable."
Sander said that while BYU has been facing off against good teams, there are definitely some areas that the Cougars need to do better to turn the ship around.
"I feel like we're not competing as hard as we should," Sander said. "There are a couple of things, offensively and defensively, that we weren't capitalizing on, so we've just got to get better. I think we'll be ready and be fine this weekend."
McGown didn't think the team had peaked too early or was overlooking anyone. He said they just had some tough matches and couldn't pull them out.
"Teams go through tough times, especially in a competitive conference," McGown said. "We had a stretch at home where opponents had been on the road a lot, then these last two weekends we played on three senior nights. It's kind of the ups and downs during a cycle of a season."
McGown said he saw a lot of good things even in the losses, but while those are things to build on, it comes down to how the Cougars prepare and perform moving forward. A big key for that will be leadership, according to McGown.
"I sent our leadership group — Sander, Devin Young and Jaylen Reyes — an email that said this week to be leaders," McGown said. "No one beats you when we run sprints, no one outworks you in a drill. You guys are the ones who are setting the pace."
This upcoming match is particularly important because with the recent struggles, McGown thinks BYU needs some success to have a shot at the NCAA tournament at-large bid.
"We have to do some stuff but who knows how much?" he said. "We need at least a quarterfinal win and maybe a semifinal win."
The easiest way to ensure the Cougars get in is to just go out and win the MPSF title, something made much easier by being at the Smith Fieldhouse.
"This is a great opportunity to play in front of our fans and really battle," he said. "We're stoked to play at home and we're glad we earned that right to have the home-court advantage."
Sander said he feels like the key to beating USC will be raising the serving and defensive game.
"They have a phenomenal setter who runs a really good offense," Sander said. "We have to slow down their offense."
McGown said the Trojans are physical all over the court but they have a couple of young guys.
"If they can play without making too many mistakes, it's scary against them," McGown said. "We need to play hard and be good in serve and serve-receive. If we can do that, we can run some offense and if we can serve, we can play some defense behind a good block."
Overall, the BYU head coach said he likes where his team is at right now and is excited to see it translate into the postseason.
"We feel like we've put in a lot of really good work over the course of the season and we like our chances," McGown said.
The Cougars will play USC today in Provo at 7 p.m. The match can be seen on BYUtv.