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 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 annually 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.
The first matchup is No. 1-seed 1999 vs. No. 8-seed 2016:
No. 1-seed BYU 1999
Head Coach: Carl McGown
Overall record: 30-1
MPSF record: 18-1 (1st)
Home record: 15-1
Final Ranking: 1
McGown took the BYU men’s volleyball program from its successful club days right into the toughest volleyball conference in the country in 1991. It took nine years for McGown to push the Cougars to the top.
BYU lost just one match in 1999, a five-set thriller to Long Beach State in front of more than 7,000 fans in the Marriott Center. Future Olympian Ryan Millar (4.88 kills per set, .492, 2.16 blocks per set) was dominating but finished second on the team in hitting to high-flying Ossie Antonetti (5.87 kps, .346).
The Cougars swept Long Beach State in the NCAA title match for the program’s first national title. Antonetti, who was named first-team All-American along with Millar, was so excited he took the championship trophy from officials and did an unsanctioned victory lap around Pauley Pavilion.
How good was this team? During the regular season BYU beat UCLA 15-0 in one set, almost unheard of during the side-out scoring era.
No. 8-seed BYU 2016
Head Coach: Shawn Olmstead
Overall record: 27-4
MPSF record: 19-3 (1st)
Home record: 13-2
Final Ranking: 2
Shawn Olmstead, who had taken the BYU women’s team to the national championship match in 2014, did the same for the men’s team in his first season at the helm in 2016.
The Cougar offense was spectacular, boasting three outstanding hitters in Brenden Sander (3.19 kps, .395), Ben Patch (4.32 kps, .379) and Jake Langlois (2.99 kps, .311). Leo Durkin ran the show at setter (10.54 aps) and Michael Hatch was the leader in the middle (.412, 1.39 bps). After losing to at No. 2 Long Beach State, BYU ran off 23 wins in the next 24 matches.
BYU took care of Long Beach State 3-1 in the semifinals and faced No. 1 Ohio State in the championship match. The Buckeye service pressure was too much to handle (eight aces) and OSU won 32-30, 25-23, 25-17.
Patch and Sander earned first team All-American honors, Langlois was second team and Durkin was named honorable mention.
Be sure to get your vote logged on Twitter or at CougarBlue.com!
Check back Thursday for the No. 4/No. 5 seed matchups in The Greatest BYU Men’s Volleyball Team of All Time Bracket.