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A new hope: BYU men’s volleyball ready to make new memories in 2022

By Darnell Dickson - | Jan 6, 2022

BYU Courtesy Photo

BYU's Davide Gardini (1), celebrates a point in the NCAA semifinals against Lewis at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

Most of the names have changed, but the expectations are always high.

That’s what Shawn Olmstead and the BYU men’s volleyball team are dealing with to start the 2022 season, which begins with a road trip to No. 5 Penn State for two matches starting Thursday.

The Cougars were a very experienced team the past two seasons – the aborted 2020 campaign where they were ranked No. 1 when the season was ended due to the pandemic and 2021 when they finished as national runner-up.

Gabi Garcia Fernandez? Wil Stanley? Zach Eschenberg? Felipe de Brito Ferreira? Miki Jauhiainen?

All gone. Graduated, moved on to professional volleyball and/or coaching.

BYU has made eight trips to the national championships since 1999, winning three times. The new 2022 roster has promise but is very inexperienced.

“We’ve had them for a whole semester and had a good training block,” Olmstead said. “I really mean it when I tell people I’m enjoying this group even more than the group last year. That doesn’t take away anything from the group last year. We knew about them and were comfortable with who they were. But it really is exciting as a coach allowing new guys to spread their wings and fly.”

Where were we?

The Cougars were elite the past two seasons but didn’t come home with a title, falling in a sweep to Hawaii last May in the NCAA championship match. BYU finished 20-4 and was No. 2 in the final national rankings. The Cougars also won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season and tournament titles while reaching the program’s eighth NCAA championship match. Garcia Fernandez, Stanley and Davide Gardini were first team All-Americans while Eschenberg and de Brito Ferreira were honorable mention selections. Garcia Fernandez only the second BYU volleyball player to receive All-american honors in all four years of eligibility.

Breaking down the roster

Two starters return in Gardini and libero Mitchel Worthington. Gardini, a 6-foot-9 senior, is an explosive offensive player who has 799 career kills and could move into the Top 10 all-time at BYU in the rally scoring era.

There is a group of players who have been in the program for several years and will have an opportunity to step up. That includes senior outside hitter Alex Ah Sue, sophomore middle blocker Gavin Julien, libero/defensive specialist Jon Stanley and senior middle blocker Brandon Oberender.

“The new veterans, their roles are different,” Olmstead said. “Every single guy on the team plays an integral role. Roles change and we’re seeing guys mature. Guys are taking advantage of their opportunities and it’s exciting to see how that will unfold.”

The roster also included at least a dozen newcomers, led by transfers Kupono Browne (6-5 So. OH) and Bartosz Slawinski (6-2 So. S). Browne was a freshman All-American at Stanford last season, totaling 111 kills. Slawinski, who is from Poland, had 225 assists last season at Barton College and will battle with sophomore Zeo Meyer for the starting setter position.

Two redshirts from 2020, Anthony Cherfan (6-6 OH) and Miks Ramanis (6-6 OH) could challenge for playing time. Cherfan has the highest vertical jump on the team. Also new this season is Alessandro Gianotti (6-7 Fr. MB), who has plenty of experience in the Italian national team system.

Learning on the job

The Cougars were ranked No. 6 in the first AVCA poll of the season and received two first-place votes. Olmstead believes there is talent and potential on the roster and they will be tested early and often with a rigorous schedule.

“We have 14 home matches and 10 on the road so that’s a good dynamic for this group,” he said. “These guys will need to go through some tough matches, through some wins and losses. There is excitement in that. It will give them a chance to grow and to build and to become leaders.”

“We don’t need to be the team we were last year. That’s not going to be the case. But we can be a pretty good team by our own right when May comes around for the conference tournament and make a run in the NCAA’s.”

BYU Men’s Volleyball

Five story lines to watch

1. Feed the beast

As new players get used to new roles, senior Davide Gardini will see a lot of sets come his way. Last season, Gardini had 249 kills and hit .335 and he will have to carry the offense early.

2. Set me up

Wil Stanley was a two-time All-American setter who has moved on. The competition for the job is between sophomore Zeo Meyer – who started one match last season when Stanley was injured – and Barton College transfer Bartosz Slawinski. Freshman Noa Haine won two state titles at Punahou School in Hawaii and is the brother of BYU women’s volleyball player Aria McComber.

3. Welcome back?

Attendance at last spring’s BYU men’s volleyball matches was limited due to the pandemic. The fans were back in the Smith Fieldhouse for the women’s season this fall, but the Omicron variant may have an effect on attendance for men’s matches.

4. Make your plans accordingly

The men’s basketball season this winter has been a mess with cancellation and rescheduling. There have already been adjustments to the men’s volleyball schedule, so players and coaches need to be ready for whatever happens in the next few months.

5 Serve and serve receive

You can’t write a volleyball story without mentioning the two most important aspects men’s volleyball. As BYU found out in the national title game, if you can’t control the other team’s serve, you can’t win. The Cougars are young at key spots and will be tested in both of these skills.

 

BYU head Coach Shawn Olmstead directs his team during their practice session Friday, May 6, 2016. The Cougars face Ohio State on Saturday in State College, Penn., in the NCAA championship match.

Brigham Young University libero Mitchel Worthington (12) celebrates a point with his teammates during a game between the BYU Cougars and the UCSB Gauchos held at Smith Fieldhouse on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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