Many of the seniors on the BYU men’s volleyball team had professional opportunities after the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Instead, they all decided to come back and try to create some magic.
Amazingly, the Cougars haven’t won a championship in 17 years, though they have played for the title three times (2013, 2016, 2017). BYU coach Shawn Olmstead was a member of that 2004 team that defeated Long Beach State in a five-set thriller in Hawaii for the crown.
The Cougars honored the 2021 senior class after Friday’s 3-1 (25-19, 25-21, 24-26, 25-19) victory against USC, the team’s 11th straight win.
Middle blocker Felipe de Brito Ferreira (2018-2021), outside hitter Zach Eschenberg (2017-2021), setter Cyrus Fa’alogo (2018-2021), opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez (2018-2021), libero Zach Hendrickson (2018-2021), middle blocker Miki Jauhiainen (2017-2021) and setter Wil Stanley (2017-2021) would like nothing more than to be able to one day compare championship rings with Olmstead.
That’s why they came back.
“What a wonderful group these guys are," BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. "After the match I told the seniors what they mean to this program and what they've accomplished. They've done some amazing things. After we lost the third set tonight I told the guys maybe it's not a bad thing that we get to play a little more volleyball. I thought we did a really good job staying the course and staying in this match. That's what great teams do."
Set 1 was tied ten times before the Cougars got a little breathing room. Three straight USC hitting errors pushed the BYU lead to 16-13. The Trojans were all over the floor during a particularly long rally, but Garcia Fernandez finally put the ball away for a 20-16 Cougar advantage. Garcia Fernandez went through the USC block at set points for the 25-19 victory.
BYU hit .316 and held the Trojans to a .033 hitting percentage in the first set, siding out at an 80% clip.
Wil Stanley’s ace gave BYU a 13-11 lead in the second set and the Cougars were never headed. BYU’s block was effective and held the Trojans to a .091 hitting percentage while continuing to play well offensively (.333). Eschenberg did the honors at set point with a hard smash for the 25-21 win.
BYU looked well on the way to its 10th sweep in 11 matches, taking a 20-14 lead in Set 3 on a USC hitting error. But the Trojans battled back to tie the set at 23 on a service ace by Chris Hall. Hall served out on his next attempt and BYU was ready for match point at 24-23. But the point was replayed because, of all things, someone in the stands popped a balloon when Hall was serving. USC eventually got the 26-24 victory on a Brandon Browning kill to force a fourth set.
BYU took a 12-9 lead on an Eschenberg kill in Set 4 and went up 16-13 after Eschenberg won a joust. Stanley scored on a dump for a 22-17 Cougar advantage. At 24-20, Jauhianinen got the quick kill for the match.
Garcia Fernandez led BYU with 13 kills and Eschenberg finished with 10. BYU outblocked the Trojans 14.0 to 7.0. The Cougars outhit the visitors .310 to .132.
BYU (15-2 overall, 14-2 MPSF) will finish the regular season with a pair of league matches at UCLA next Friday and Saturday. The Cougars will host the MPSF Tournament at the Smith Fieldhouse beginning April 22.