BYU-Pepperdine men's volleyball MPSF finals 2021

BYU's Wil Stanley (right) and his teammates celebrate together after sweeping Pepperdine in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation finals at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on Saturday, April 24, 2021.

A quest that truly began two years ago is tantalizingly close for the BYU men’s volleyball team.

The Cougars — who were top ranked program in the country last March when the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in a cancelled season — are the No. 2 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

BYU (18-3) is just two matches away from their first national title since 2004.

Of course, a number of good teams stand in the Cougars’ way.

As the No. 2 seed, BYU has a bye to the national semifinals in Columbus, Ohio on May 6.

The pairings were announced on Sunday and pits Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association champion Penn State (21-3) with Conference Carolinas champ Belmont Abbey (15-7) in the first opening round match on May 3.

On May 4, Big West Conference Tournament champion UC Santa Barbara (15-4) faces at-large selection Pepperdine (13-6) and the Penn State-Belmont Abbey winner takes on No. 3 seed Lewis (20-2), which claimed the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association title. The winner of that match will move to the semifinals against BYU.

“At this stage we’re going to play great teams sooner or later,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. “At this point let’s get our shoelaces tied up, our guys are going to get their teeth and they’ll be ready to play, I am certain of that.”

Top seed Hawaii (15-1) will take on the UC Santa Barbara-Pepperdine winner in the other semifinal.

Hawaii lost in the Big West semifinals to UC San Diego but was awarded one of the NCAA at-large selections and the No. 1 seed. The final at-large spot was between Pepperdine and UCLA. Four of the five losses for the Waves were to BYU and they won two of three with the Bruins, including a MPSF semifinal sweep.

BYU opened the season ranked No. 1 but losses to UCLA and Grand Canyon allowed Hawaii to move into the top spot in early March. The Cougars won 12 matches in a row before losing to UCLA on the road to end the season. BYU looked powerful in sweeping Grand Canyon and Pepperdine to win the MPSF Tournament at the Smith Fieldhouse this weekend.

“If anything I feel like we’ve just worked really hard,” Cougar senior outside hitter Zach Eschenberg said. “We’ve definitely had moments where we haven’t played our volleyball so we know we can keep getting better. I feel like we’ve done our part and other teams, that’s obviously things we can’t control. There are really good teams out there that have had really successful seasons. We’re just really glad to go to the tournament.”

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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