By DARREN WILCOX
The BYU men’s volleyball team had a season of firsts, even though it was ended prematurely.
Volleyball Magazine ranked the Cougars No. 1 in their preseason poll back in January. It was the first time a BYU sports team was ranked No. 1 in a preseason poll.
Then BYU went on the road and lost to Pepperdine twice on Feb. 5 and 7, quickly shattering the perfect season. The Cougars only lost four more matches the rest of the year, but the last loss was the toughest.
On April 18, the season came to a crashing halt in California when the Cougars lost to Long Beach State 17-16, 15-13, 9-15, 17-16 in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament. BYU was ahead in every game, but couldn’t put away the 49ers who simply outlasted the fourth-seed Cougars.
Head coach Carl McGown said a summary of the season is simple.
“We didn’t do what we should have done,” McGown said. ” … (Long Beach) didn’t even play very good, and they still beat us because we played worse.”
BYU was led by juniors Ossie Antonetti and Ryan Millar, who chipped in with 20 and 19 kills respectively. Freshman Hidde Van Beest had a match high with 16 blocks and Millar added 11. Van Beest led the nation this year in blocking with 2.57 per game.
Even with the performances, McGown said this year’s play was far from perfect. He estimated that about five guys on the team didn’t play at the level they were expected to based on their performance last year, and that led to the disappointing finish.
The NCAA only invites four teams to compete for the Volleyball National Championship. Three of the berths are automatic, determined by conference tournaments in the East, Midwest and West. The fourth is an at-large bid, given to the best school that doesn’t win its conference tournament.
Because of the limited space, BYU needed a victory in the MPSF tournament to make the Final Four. But Long Beach made that dream vanish.
Three Cougars received postseason honors. Millar and Antonetti were named to the MPSF All-Conference first team, and Van Beest was named to the second team.
The men’s team also made vast improvements in its attendance figures. The team finished last season with 10,966 total, but this season the Cougars drew 52,401. It was the biggest attendance jump in the nation, according to Collegiate Volleyball. BYU also finished second in average attendance with 3,493 in 15 home matches, and was undefeated at home.
The Cougars lose only three players from this years’ roster: seniors Olivier Knechciak and Justin Spain, and fab freshman Van Beest, who will return to his native Australia to turn professional.
“Even though we lose Van Beest … unless we underperform again for the second year in a row, we should really have a great team next year,” McGown said.
BYU ends the season at 19-6, 14-6 in the conference.