After eight weeks of intense men’s volleyball action, BYU has fallen from the No. 1 spot to the No. 5 spot.
To some onlookers, especially after the Cougars’ disappointing five-set loss to the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos on Feb. 25, it may appear the wheels are coming off the bus. After losing sophomore sensation Taylor Sander and plummeting four spots in the polls, what else could go wrong?
But according to several players, the team isn’t falling apart at all. In fact, they say, though there have been rough patches, BYU will hit its stride soon enough.
“Down the road, I think we’ll be playing really well,” said Andrew Heap, a sophomore outside hitter. “I think it’ll happen soon. You can bet we’ll hit our peak at the right time.”
Junior libero Cory Jones and redshirt freshman outside hitter Josue Rivera both said the team’s ranking isn’t incredibly important, regardless of how far they may fall in the polls.
“Falling in the rankings kind of sucks, obviously, but our ranking really doesn’t matter that much,” Rivera said. “We just have to keep focusing and playing our game. We have to go hard and fight everyday.”
Jones said the team doesn’t focus on its ranking, but rather how games are going.
“It’s not necessarily the losses we’re focusing on, but how we’re playing,” Jones said. “Whether we’re third, fourth, that doesn’t matter. It’s not really about your ranking, it’s about what your team is made of.”
According to Heap, the team is much more affected by its level of play during games than the number tacked in front of the BYU name in news articles.
“We’ve won a few games, but we haven’t necessarily played really well in a lot of our matches, and so that’s kind of the thing that affects us most, not the rankings,” Heap said. “Even our wins have been kind of struggles. We haven’t really played well throughout the whole game, but I think if we keep focused on getting better every day and being the best team we can be, the rest is going to take care of itself.”
Staying focused is exactly what the Cougars look to do as they host the No. 10 Pepperdine Waves on Friday and Saturday.
The Waves wield three strong hitters in senior middle blocker Matt Pollock, freshman outside hitter Josh Taylor and junior opposite hitter Maurice Torres. Pollock is currently ranked sixth in the MPSF conference in blocks and eighth in hitting percentage, while Taylor and Torres bring in the fifth and sixth spots, respectively, in conference kills. Torres is also ranked third in the conference in service aces.
Heap said Pepperdine will be motivated knowing BYU lost to UC Santa Barbara, which means the Cougars will need to play as well as possible.
According to Jones, this weekend’s games will give the Cougars a good opportunity to further learn a lesson the team has been grappling with all season.
“One lesson that we are learning is that just because we have a lot of talent on our team, doesn’t necessarily mean that things are going to come automatically all the time,” he said. “So we have to learn that no matter who we’re playing, we have to come out and be as focused as possible and make great passes, great sets, great hits and great blocks in order to play our best game.”
He added it will be important for BYU to play to its full potential.
“Even if we win against a [bad] team but didn’t play good volleyball, then it feels [bad],” Jones said. “Yeah, we won, that’s cool. But sometimes we play so much further below our potential than we could have. We need to learn how to play our best every single point, every single game, every single match.”
The Cougars will host the Waves on both Friday and Saturday nights at 7.