It was April 23, 2011. Finals had just ended. Summer was in the air. Everything felt right. It was a Saturday night in Provo, and what better place to be than the Smith Fieldhouse?
The BYU men’s volleyball team was hosting UC Santa Barbara in the first round of the MPSF tournament. The second-ranked Cougars were highly favored against the seventh-ranked Gauchos. But they lost.
The Gauchos went on to upset several other teams before losing the 2011 national championship game to Ohio State. This weekend, the Gauchos, now ranked No. 12, are returning to Provo in an attempt to again dismantle the Cougars.
According to senior setter Ryan Boyce, the team feels no animosity toward UCSB because of last year’s upset. Rather, BYUis focused on this year.
“We just want to come and play our best,” Boyce said. “That’s why you play sports: to come and play your best and let the chips fall where they may.”
Boyce said the Gauchos are also a different team than last year, as they lost five of six starters. But the Gauchos are still a talented team with several strong players.
“They [UCSB] lost five of their six starters last year and they’re still one of the best teams in the league,” Boyce said. “They just have a lot of passion and a lot of fire. They have a good middle, they have a good outside, they have a good librero. You name it and they’ve got it. So we just have to play well and stick to the game plan we have.”
According to BYU coach Chris McGown, UCSB is led by two outside hitters: junior Miles Evans and redshirt freshman Kevin Donohue, as well as junior middle blocker Dylan Davis. Davis is UCSB’s sole returning starter from last year’s national runner-up squad and Evans currently holds the third-highest ranking in kills per game in the MPSF conference.
McGown said good setting as well as serving and passing will be the key to this weekend’s games.
“I think one of the things we have to start with is we have to have good setting right off the bat,” he said. “When our setters find a rhythm and start setting well I think the rest of the team kind of comes along and plays well … We talk a lot about serving it in and hitting it in and if we can do those two things, then I think we’ll be able to win.”
BYU outside hitter Phil Fuchs, a redshirt freshman, said another key to this weekend’s game will be BYU’s ability to keep UCSB from going on long runs and scoring a lot of points at once.
“Our coaches have been talking to us a lot about how we need to have a better sideout percentage and a big factor in that is passing,” Fuchs said. “If we can get better at our passing game, our sideout percentage will get better. If we can serve better, then their sideout percentage will be less. So, if we can do those two things, we’ll have a definite advantage.”
Several players said one problem the Cougars must address going into the rest of the season is the team’s overall energy. According to Boyce, the team has struggled to play its best in the first set of its matches, as evidenced by the Cougars’ poor play during the first two sets against Cal Baptist on Feb. 17. Both Boyce and Fuchs said for the trend to change, each team member must make a conscious decision to play with more energy and fire.
“Everyone has to make that decision to come out and be super excited and super pumped to play the game,” Fuchs said. “When everyone individually decides, ‘hey, we’re going to put it on them this time, we’re going to give it everything we’ve got,’ and everyone on the team is making that decision every day, then when game time comes around, we’re going to be fired up and ready to go.”
The Cougars will host the Gauchos on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 in the Smith Fieldhouse.