The young BYU men’s volleyball team is starting to put it all together.
Pepperdine better be paying attention.
The Cougars (13-11) face the No. 1 seed Waves (20-6) at Firestone Fieldhouse in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals on Thursday. Since losing to BYU 3-1 in Provo on March 16, Pepperdine has won five straight matches – all at home – and lost just one set. It’s been 12 days since the Waves dispatched Concordia-Irvine 3-0 in the MPSF regular-season finale.
Pepperdine is ranked No. 4 in the country and will be heavy favorites to win the MPSF Tournament.
BYU has beaten every team remaining in the tournament at least once (that includes UCLA and USC) and can be a dangerous opponent when it’s on a roll.
“I told the guys in our team meeting, the last team I’d want to face when the pieces come together is BYU,” Cougar coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We’re a big, strong, physical team that can get after it from the service line. Pepperdine’s got the matchup. They are comfortable and confident at home. The most frustrating part of the season from the coaching staff’s perspective is we see the talent. We know behind closed doors how the injuries and ups and downs have dealt some blows to the guys. When the pieces are there to really play at a high level, we’ve seen that. Unfortunately we’ve also seen at times this year the other end of the spectrum.”
Last week was certainly BYU’s best road performance of the season, a 3-2 victory at Stanford in the MPSF quarterfinals. At two critical junctures, the Cougars found a way respond after losing a lead. The Cougars had a comfortable lead in Set 3, but Stanford came back to tie it at 24-all. BYU scored the final two points to claim a 26-24 win.
Then in Set 5, BYU took a 14-11 lead only to see the Cardinal fight off three straight match points to tie the set at 14.
“They make a play or two and we got a little tentative,” Olmstead said. “The mistakes were more on our side then them doing anything great. I remember they had a swing with (Jaylen) Jasper and he had a great night. But Gabi (Garcia Fernandez) comes out of nowhere and stuffs him so we go up 15-14. Then we get a touch and score the next one (a kill by Davide Gardini) for the win.
“We know we’ve improved, but sometimes I feel like there are still too many ups and downs in the course of the match. When we go up against Pepperdine, they’ve got five seniors on the court and rarely do they go through those ups and downs. They’re going to stay up more.”
One of those seniors for the Waves is two-time MPSF Player of the Year David Wieczorek, who ranks second in the league in kills (3.84 per set), service aces (0.43 per set) and points (4.58 per set). He’s also fifth in hitting percentage (.372). Senior opposite hitter Michael Wexter was named to the All-MPF first team as well.
The Cougars know their only road to the NCAA’s is to win the MPSF Tournament.
“We knew (last week) that a lot of people on the outside were thinking that we didn’t have a chance,” BYU sophomore middle blocker Felipe de Brito Ferreira said. “That gave us extra energy to prove them wrong and we did it. Now we just have the same mentality. Everyone is doubting we can get this MPSF, but we don’t. We have 100 percent trust that we can do it. We are all in for Thursday.”