As the 2014 BYU men’s volleyball season gets underway, Taylor Sander — known amongst fans as “The Sandman” — leads the ways as the Cougars look to make a second consecutive National Championship run.
And Sander’s goals don’t end there — he’s a big-time player with big-time dreams.
Sander has taken the BYU men’s volleyball team to the next level, leading the pack as a three-time All-American. With a vertical leap as high as 43 inches, Sander leads the team in overall kills.
“He’s the best player in the country,” said Tyler Heap, a sophomore setter for the Cougars. “You always have a shot when you’re playing with Taylor.”
Sander grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif., and picked up volleyball at the age of 8. He comes from a family of volleyball players. Sander remembers attending his sister’s volleyball tournaments as a kid, and he quickly developed a love for the game. His family continues to be his biggest support system, including his grandma, who is currently serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.
“She’s been to every game,” Sander said. “She makes us all these little drinks for us after the game; she’s my biggest fan.”
Sander’s younger brother plans to attend BYU next year and follow in his brother’s footsteps.
Off the court, Sander enjoys long walks to the freezer for some cookies and cream ice cream, dreaming of surfing back home, enjoying life as a first-time uncle and spending quality time with his teammates.
“We’re all best friends and we hang out all the time,” Sander said. “I don’t think there have been too many pranks, though. We’re all kind of mature and grown up.”
Josue Rivera, a senior outside hitter, knows Sander for his lighthearted personality.
“I’ve known Taylor since I was 14 years old,” Rivera said. “We have a lot of fun.”
Sander’s relationship with his teammates is one of his key motivators for success on the court.
“Being out there with five or six other guys is just really fun,” Sander said. “There’s really no better feeling than succeeding with your teammates. The most satisfying thing about volleyball is the fact that you have a team behind you.”
Since Sander first began playing for the Cougars in 2010, he has been a key player for the team. His high scoring and high jumps have seemingly brought the popularity of BYU men’s volleyball to new heights. Home games at the Smith Fieldhouse bring increasingly large crowds and an energy that keeps the players (and fans) fired up.
“We have these amazing home crowds and I don’t discount the fact that they are here in large part to see him play,” head coach Chris McGown said. “A lot of the success, positivity and good vibes surrounding our program are a result of him.”
No one doubts Sander’s talent will take him far. After graduation Sander, hopes to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“My biggest goals are to get a national championship and make it to the Olympics,” Sander said. “After that I don’t know what’s next, that’s all I’ve ever really wanted.
Until then, Cougar fans continue to flood the Smith Fieldhouse and cheer the team on to wins.
“Get as loud as you possibly can is all I ask,” Sander said. “When you can feel the crowd yelling after a win, those are the happiest moments of my life. It’s something special.”