“Josue ... Josue, Josue, Josue … Josue … Josue.”
Last Saturday night, fans at BYU men’s volleyball’s home game against USC let the chant (to the tune of the popular “Olé” soccer chant) filled the Smith Fieldhouse whenever Cougar junior outside hitter Josue Rivera stepped up to serve.
And sometimes, like in last Saturday’s sweep of USC, the Puerto Rican says he lets himself just sing right along.
“That is so much fun,” he said after the match. “It makes me want to hit the ball so hard on every serve. It gets me going.”
Rivera plays a huge roll with his passing, his offense and his serving, but perhaps his biggest impact comes with the energy he brings to the court for BYU, energy the Cougars are going to need when they host UC Santa Barbara tonight in the MPSF semifinals.
“He’s extremely passionate and he brings an incredible fire to the match,” BYU head coach Chris McGown said. “It’s one of our jobs as a staff to get that dialed in to be positive, because it can swing the other way. He gets all fired up and (if) at the same time things don’t go his way, we don’t want him hitting the bottom of that sine curve. We want him flattening out. He contributes in ways that no one else does to the team dynamic.”
Cougar junior libero Jaylen Reyes explained that there is some the irony to the “Josue” chant that gets Rivera fired up.
“It started on the road last year,” Reyes said. “It was the Stanford student section that was saying it when he got an ace. We just kind of were making fun of it, but then we decided to have the bench start it here. I thought the crowd caught on pretty good.”
In the 3-0 sweep of the Trojans, Rivera appeared to use the chanting to increase his intensity. Reyes said the the end result is what he points to, although he didn't see the junior actually singing.
“He claims that he started singing along,” Reyes said. “But if he serves the way he served, he can do whatever he wants. It doesn’t matter to me.”
McGown said he can’t confirm it either, since he always watches the opponent’s receive of the serve, not the serve itself. He did agree with Reyes on the results point.
“If it helps him serve the way he served, for sure join in, Josue,” McGown said. “Keep talking.”
What McGown doesn’t want to see is Rivera try to do too much and then get frustrated. That was something the Cougar coach thought the junior avoided very well against USC.
“The thing I was most excited about was he got dug a few times when usually he wouldn’t, when usually he’d try to make something out of it,” McGown said. “We talked all week about how he didn’t have to. Just give it to them in a tough place and let us play defense. I thought he did that a number of times really well and that was big.”
If Rivera can keep his energy up, it is a double-edged sword for opponents, because the BYU crowd at the Fieldhouse also keeps the Cougars pumped up.
“I listen to interviews with other coaches and they call this the biggest homecourt advantage in college men’s volleyball,” Reyes said. “It’s so much fun to play here. It’s a different vibe here. It’s not the same for the other teams when we go to their places. When you are on the road, you have to create your own energy. Here you just make one good play. You’ve got 5,000 fans behind you.”
BYU has won 24 straight matches at home, but knows it faces a tough test to extend that streak with the Gauchos in town.
“They are good across the board,” McGown said. “There is no one you can cheat against. I think they are a really well-rounded team.”
Santa Barbara forced the Cougars to take all five sets to beat them in the last meeting in Provo, then defeated BYU 3-1 when the Gauchos got their turn to host. Reyes said the Cougars know they need to be ready for a dogfight.
“It starts with serving and passing,” Reyes said. “They are a really good defensive team and a really good serving team, so a lot of team’s hitting percentages tend to go down. They tend to make the game kind of ugly. That’s their way of playing. If we can take care of serve receive and we can side-out, we’ll be fine.”
Both MPSF semifinals will take place in Provo this evening with No. 2-seed Pepperdine taking on No. 3-seed Stanford at 5 p.m. on TheW.tv followed by BYU-Santa Barbara at 8 p.m. on BYUtv.