BYU volleyball takes on UCLA at home 17

Fans react as the ball falls into the crowd during a volleyball game between BYU and UCLA on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo. DOMINIC VALENTE, Daily Herald

Spring brings visions of sunny days, flowers and men’s volleyball championships.

Alas, the 2020 BYU men’s volleyball team – ranked No. 1 mid-March – didn’t get to pursue the first NCAA title for the Cougars since 2004 because of the COVID-19 virus shutdown.

Right now, it appears the roster will return nearly intact for 2021 and take another shot at the title.

This season does, though, bring up a good topic of conversation: Which is the best BYU men’s volleyball team of all-time?

The men’s volleyball program is elite and competes at the highest level better than any other on campus. You could argue that the cross country team is on that same level, I guess, but the 3-4,000 fans that fill the Smith Fieldhouse every match would beg to differ.

The Cougars have won three NCAA men’s volleyball titles (1999, 2001, 2004) and played for four more (2003, 2013, 2016, 2017). If you add to those numbers the 2020 team, you have a nice, neat eight-team bracket.

We did this with the BYU men’s basketball team back in March, and it was a lot of fun. So I’m going to seed the best eight Cougar men’s volleyball teams and we’re going to crown a champion.

That mean you’ve got to vote in the polls so make sure you step up to let your voice be heard. I’ll make a case for each one of the teams to refresh your memory.

Check out the 3-6 matchup:

BYU men's volleyball 2001 NCAA title

The 2001 BYU men's volleyball team poses with the NCAA championship trophy after beating UCLA for the national title.

No. 3-seed BYU 2001

Head Coach: Carl McGown

Overall record: 23-4

MPSF record: 14-3 (1st)

Home record: 14-2

Offense: .370

Defense: .222

Final Ranking: 1

The Cougars’ second NCAA title came in 2001 in Long Beach, where McGown grew up. BYU was dominant throughout the season, posting 15 sweeps during its schedule. The Cougars dropped a 3-1 decision to Hawaii at home in the MPSF Tournament finals and went into the NCAA’s as the No. 2 seed.

After dropping Penn State 3-1 in the semifinals, BYU powered to a sweep against mighty UCLA in the final (30-26, 30-26, 32-30).

Final Four MVP Mike Wall had a terrific season at outside hitter (4.41 kps, .364) and Joaquin Acosta was nearly as dynamic (3.00 kps, .358). Scott Bunker was an All-American in the middle (2.62 kps, .405, 1.84 bps) and setter Hector Lebron, who redshirted the 2000 season, came back to win his second NCAA title.

Bunker, Acosta and Wall were first team All-Americans and middle blocker Matt Olsen (1.23 bps) was named to the second team.

BYU men's volleyball Michael Burke

BYU's Michael Burke attacks the ball from a set by Carlos Moreno in a match against USC.

No. 6-seed BYU 2003

Head Coach: Tom Peterson

Overall record: 23-7

MPSF record: 17-5 (2nd-tie)

Home Record: 13-3

Offense: .340

Defense: .275

Final Ranking: 2

BYU got hot at the right time and claimed the MPSF Tournament title and automatic bid to the NCAA’s with a 3-2 win at No. 1 Pepperdine. The Cougars topped Penn State 3-1 in the semifinals and went into the championship match the favorite against upstart Lewis University.

BYU won an epic Set 1, 44-42, but couldn’t put the Flyers away. Lewis won an impossibly long rally to force a fifth set. BYU trailed 10-4 but reeled the Flyers back in at 13-12. Lewis won another impossibly long rally to reach match point and claimed a 15-13 victory for its first-ever title.

Months later, however, Lewis was found to have two ineligible players and had to vacate the championship.

Luke Slabe (1.53 kps) was a high-flying attacker for BYU and later went on to coach for the Cougars before leaving for a job with the USA women’s national team. The remaining stars – middle blocker Michael Burke (2.75 kps, .458, 1.41 bps), setter Carlos Moreno (14.25 aps), outside hitter Jon Alleman (3.93 kps, .365) and libero Fernando Pessoa (2.20 digs per set) – would return to form the nucleus of the 2004 NCAA championship team.

Alleman and Moreno earned second team All-American honors.

Be sure to get your vote logged on Twitter or at CougarBlue.com!

Check back Friday for the No. 2/No. 7 seed matchups in The Greatest BYU Men’s Volleyball Team of All Time Bracket.

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

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!