BYU men's volleyball vs. USC in MPSF semifinals 08

Young BYU fans cheer during a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals match between Brigham Young University and the University of Southern California on Thursday, April 19, 2018, at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, 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 means 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.

Next up is the No. 4-seed vs. the No. 5-seed:

BYU mens volleyball vs. UCSB 23

Brigham Young University opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez (5) and middle blocker Felipe de Brito Ferreira (16) try to block a hit from University of California Santa Barbara outside hitter Roy McFarland (3) 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

No. 4 seed BYU 2020

Head Coach: Shawn Olmstead

Overall record: 17-1

MPSF record: 6-0 (1st)

Home record: 9-0

Offense: .358

Defense: .231

Final Ranking: 1

Let the debate begin. The 2020 Cougars looked well on their way to winning a national title after an early March trip to top-ranked Hawaii. No. 2 BYU swept the Rainbow Warriors the first night and pushed the home team to five sets before falling in the second. The following week, the Cougars were voted No. 1 in the AVCA poll. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the rest of the regular season a week later.

The Cougars didn’t really have a weakness. AVCA Player of the Year Gabi Garcia Fernandez (4.00 kps, .343, 56 aces) possessed the best jump serve in the country. Sophomore outside hitter Davide Gardini was hitting a stunning .370 (3.61 kps) when the season was ended. Setter Wil Stanley (10.74 assists per set, .358 team hitting percentage) was named first-team All-American along with Fernandez and Gardini.

When teams doubled up on Fernandez and Gardini, senior outside Zach Eschenberg (2.40 kps, .300) was good enough to make them pay and earned honorable mention All-American honors. Middles Felipe de Brito Ferreira (1.28 bps) and Miki Jauhiainen (1.14 bps) led the Cougars to 2.95 blocks per set, the No. 1 mark in the country.

Ben Patch

Ben Patch (13) of BYU hits the ball over the net in a match against Hawaii during the quarterfinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Volleyball Championship Tournament at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo on April 20, 2013. 

No. 5 seed BYU 2013

Head Coach: Chris McGown

Overall record: 26-5

MPSF record: 21-3 (1st)

Home record: 17-2

Offense: .327

Defense: .247

Final Ranking: 2

The 2013 Cougars were loaded on the outside with future Olympian Taylor Sander (3.94 kps, .333) and freshman sensation Ben Patch (3.60 kps, .311). The Cougars won 18 of 19 matches to reach the final, including a sweep of Penn State in the semifinals.

But in the finals, No. 2 UC Irvine — which BYU had beaten 3-1 and 3-2 during the regular season — rose up and won the championship in three very close sets (25-23, 25-22, 26-24).

Patch, who set the school rally-scoring record for kills in a match with 35 against UC Irvine, was named first team All-American and newcomer of the year. He left to serve a church mission at the end of the season.

Sander was chosen as a first team All-American and Russ Lavaja (.427, 1.16 bps) was second team. Setter Ryan Boyce (10.27 aps) middle blocker Michael Hatch (1.40 bps) were also key players.

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

Check back Thursday for the No. 3/No. 6 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.

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