The BYU men’s volleyball team was flying high last March, the No. 1 team in the country and the favorite to win the school’s fourth national championship.
The pandemic changed all that and put the Cougars on a different path.
So here we are, just over a year later. The entire roster came back for one more shot. BYU is focused on winning the title that they didn’t even get the chance to compete for in 2020.
“That’s what we’re playing for,” BYU senior middle blocker Miki Jauhiainen said. “It would mean a lot. We won a conference title my sophomore year (2018) but other than that we haven’t won much.”
The second-ranked Cougars (17-3) are the No. 1 seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, which begins Thursday at the Smith Fieldhouse. As the top seed, BYU has a bye to the semifinals on Friday.
“I believe the team is well prepared,” Cougar coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We’re in a unique spot because finals are over on Wednesday. I told the guys that nothing is given from here on out. They can’t expect our body of work to mean much. You can’t have that mindset or you can slip up. A team that feels the need to fight for something can catch you. All the discussions we’re having is we need to be the team fighting for something.”
BYU started the season losing at home to UCLA and also lost at Grand Canyon. The Cougars then reeled off 12 straight victories to claim the MPSF regular season title before losing to the Bruins in Los Angeles on the second match of a back-to-back.
The tournament will be reseeded after Thursday’s quarterfinals so the Cougars’ opponent could be Grand Canyon, USC, Stanford or Concordia.
“We have a great opportunity to play in a championship environment in Provo in front of fans,” Olmstead said. “We can’t thank our administration enough, all the way to the school president, for allowing fans to be here so we can get some noise in the Smith Fieldhouse.”
BYU has won the MPSF Tournament title – and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that goes with it – eight times since becoming a Division I program in 1991. The last four times (2018, 2016, 2014, 2013) have all been in the Smith Fieldhouse. This year, the Cougars are 9-1 at home.
“With the uncertainty of who we’re going to play, we are focusing on ourselves,” Olmstead said. “We’re zoned in on taking advantage of practice. The guys are in the weight room right now getting after it. We wanted to get back to serving tough at home and we’ve done that. I want us to be able to get into a nice rhythm offensively. I still then there is a lot of room for us to grow there, to be a force offensively. We’ll continue to build on that.”
The goal is to get to the NCAA Tournament and win that elusive fourth national title. Since claiming the 2004 crown, BYU has finished as runner-up three times (2013, 2016, 2017).
“To win a title, I know for this group it would feel super good,” senior outside hitter Zach Eschenberg said. “Last year we were performing so well and didn’t get a chance to finish. We’ll keep playing one game at a time and hopefully everything will fall into place. We’re definitely fighting for that championship.”