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.
Here’s a look at the No. 2-seed vs. the No. 7-seed:
No. 2-seed BYU 2004
Head Coach: Tom Peterson
Overall record: 29-4
MPSF record: 20-2 (1st)
Home record: 16-1
Final Ranking: 1
Peterson had big shoes to fill when McGown resigned in 2002 but he got the Cougars to the finals in 2004. BYU won 28 of its final 29 matches and endured an NCAA investigation into the eligibility of two of its players: Victor Batista and Joe Hillman. They were eventually cleared but resentment remained among BYU opponents.
The Cougars won the 2004 NCAA title in Honolulu, finishing with an epic five-set victory (15-30, 30-18, 20-30, 32-30, 19-17) against Long Beach State. BYU trailed 10-6 in the fifth set and fought off three match points before rallying for a stunning victory.
The Cougars had a balanced attack with Fernando Pessoa (4.03 kps, .360), Jonathan Alleman (3.34 kps, .350) and Hillman (3.54 kps, .345) leading the way, but it was the brilliance of setter Carlos Moreno — the Final Four MVP — that set BYU apart. The hallmark of this team was its grittiness and determination to win the most important points during a match.
Pessoa earned first team All-American honors with Batista and Hillman named to the second team.
No. 7-seed BYU 2017
Head Coach: Shawn Olmstead
Overall record: 26-5
MPSF record: 21-3 (1st)
Home record: 14-2
Final Ranking: 2
The Cougars had to take the long road to the NCAA final as the No. 3 seed. BYU won the MPSF regular season but lost to Hawaii in the MPSF Tournament semifinals.
A sweep of Barton preceded a stunning sweep of No. 2 Long Beach State to reach the championship for the second straight season against No. 1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes — playing at home in Columbus — dominated for a sweep and won their second straight NCAA title.
Jake Langlois (3.69 kills per set) and Brenden Sander (2.95 kps) led the BYU offense, which was directed by setter Leo Durkin (10.38 assists per set). An injury to Ben Patch (4.27 kps in just 52 sets) likely threw the Cougars’ groove off just enough and they never really got it back. But Patch and Langlois went on to play plenty for the Team USA program and Durkin would play professional volleyball after his graduation.
Langlois was a first team All-American and Durkin, Sander and middle blocker Price Jarman all earned honorable mention status.
Be sure to get your vote logged on Twitter or at CougarBlue.com!
We're going to let BYU fans determine the all-time best Cougar men's volleyball team with an 8-team bracket. Read the story in the Daily Herald, then vote! Here is the poll for No. 2 (2004) vs. No. 7 (2017).— Darnell Dickson (@DarnellWrites) May 8, 2020
Check back Monday for the first semifinal in The Greatest BYU Men’s Volleyball Team of All Time Bracket.