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BYU men’s volleyball: Uber-talented Cougars went bust when a national title was the only satisfactory outcome in 2021



PROVO, Utah — Although they never really came out and said it publicly, everyone associated closely with the BYU men’s volleyball program knew it was national championship or bust for the Cougars this season.

Well, the Cougars busted.

They were totally outclassed Saturday night in the national championship game at the sparkling new Covelli Center on the campus of Ohio State University, losing 3-0 and by a total of 19 points to No. 1-ranked Hawaii.

There was just one pot at the end of the rainbow in 2021 after COVID-19 ended the 2020 season prematurely and sent the teams on a collision course, and the Rainbow Warriors happily snatched it up, leaving No. 2 BYU empty-handed in a championship match once again.

“Obviously, I wish I could have given them a gold trophy,” star BYU outside hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez said, speaking of his family’s visit from Puerto Rico, but in a way referring to all of Cougar Nation. “But hey, Rebecca (his mother) has to deal with the silver one this (time).”

In one of the craziest stats in recent memory, one of the most dominant programs in the sport the past decade has lost 12 straight sets in national title clashes, falling 3-0 to UC Irvine, 3-0 to Ohio State twice and 3-0 to Hawaii, which was seemingly a step ahead of BYU at every turn Saturday night in a match televised nationally by ESPNU.

Hawaii seemed like the more prepared team, even after BYU coach Shawn Olmstead and several players said before the match the Cougars (20-4) had spent a lot of time preparing for the islanders all season.

To a man, the Cougars said the NCAA championship-ending collapse shouldn’t diminish an otherwise outstanding season. It was only the second time BYU has been swept this season.

But four pastings in four title matches isn’t just a coincidence. It is a trend, especially considering BYU had outstanding teams all four of those years and but couldn’t show it when it mattered most.

Looking back at the 2021 season, perhaps fans should have saw this coming. Trouble was, BYU didn’t play a Big West opponent all year — due to the pandemic — to get an idea of how it would stack up.

Grand Canyon got the Cougars 3-0 in Phoenix on Feb. 25, but the Cougars returned the favor the next night. The other losses were to UCLA, both by 3-1 counts, at the beginning of the season in Provo and end of the regular season in Los Angeles.

Asked to sum up the season, senior setter Wil Stanley said he could do it in one word.

“It was unforgettable,” he said.

With a forgettable ending, unfortunately.