PROVO, Utah – The BYU men’s volleyball team felt it was heading in the right direction as the Cougars swept then-No. 1 Hawaii, subsequently earning the No. 1 spot in the next AVCA poll in March 2020. But then a week later their season came to an end.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions,” head coach Shawn Olmstead said, “(We) were the number one team in the nation and there was nothing they would be able to prove beyond that.”
While the cancellation of the season ended BYU’s hopes for a national championship, the team feels it can continue the success it had during the shortened 2020 season.
The Cougars are currently ranked No. 1 in the preseason AVCA poll and were voted to finish first in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in the preseason coaches’ poll.
BYU returns every starter from the top-ranked team last year, including four AVCA All-Americans.
Opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez, outside hitter Davide Gardini, and setter Will Stanley earned first-team honors. Outside hitter Zach Eschenberg was an honorable mention.
“They deserve the recognition and rewards based on the season last year,” Olmstead said. “It’s a great place for them to start, our team to start and it speaks to our team collectively and experience-wise.”
The team is mixed with experience and youth, which leads to tough competition in practice according to Olmstead. “We are fortunate that in our program we’ve got a mix of young and old that can compete and push each other. We talk to the guys all the time about the fact that a rising tide lifts up all the boats, so the better they are, the better the team is.”
Some of the younger players Olmstead highlighted as standing out in practice are freshman setter Zeo Meyer and freshman outside hitter Miks Ramanis.
The Cougars’ recently released schedule is filled with stiff competition in MPSF play as five of the six teams BYU will face are currently ranked in the AVCA poll. Pepperdine is ranked the highest tied for seventh followed by UCLA at nine, Grand Canyon at 10, Concordia Irvine at 12 and Stanford at 15.
Olmstead, the 2020 MPSF Coach of the Year, believes playing a tough conference schedule during the season will benefit the Cougars in the long run.
“If we want to reach and make the most of our team and the most of our potential, we have to want those tough matchups,” Olmstead said.
As part of the schedule release, BYU announced that only players’ family members are allowed to attend home games at the Smith Fieldhouse for the time being.
The team will kick off its national championship aspirations on Feb. 4 at home against UCLA. The game will air on BYUTV at a time to be announced.