It was two months ago that the BYU men’s volleyball team was in Chicago playing in the NCAA semifinals against Stanford. Because the Cougars had beaten Stanford multiple times in the season already, fans found the 3-2 loss disappointing.
For senior and team leader Taylor Sander, it would be the last time he would play in a BYU uniform. While the loss might look like a step backward in a growing volleyball career, his overall successful career in a Cougars uniform has led him to the U.S. National Team and beyond.
Immediately after the loss in the NCAA semifinals, Sander made the expected but still exciting move of joining the U.S. National Team for World League competition. In mid-June, he signed a contract to play on a pro team in Italy. Not only will Sander be remembered as one of BYU’s greatest volleyball players, but he’s on the path to becoming a national and international volleyball star.
Sander started on the U.S. National Team by scoring 20 points in his first World League match, to contribute to America’s five-set win against Bulgaria in the end of May. From then, he continued to be successful, a leading scorer in many of the teams’ matches.
“He’s made a really quick adjustment,” said BYU associate head coach Rob Neilson. “There is an adjustment just because the guys are bigger, stronger, the balls are coming faster from the service line and the blocks are bigger, but we knew he had all the tools to be great, and I think he’s done a really great job of making that adjustment, reading the game and playing it the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Currently the Men’s National Team is 9-2. Their last two matches were against No. 1 Russia, in which Sander and the team beat Russia in the first match and lost in the second.
They’ll soon be traveling to Serbia for the last two games of the World League against Serbia on July 4 and July 6.
Sander’s biggest move recently is that he has signed a contract with Blu Volley Verona, an Italian Serie A1 (top level) team and will be playing there when the season begins in October.
“We’re excited,” Neilson said. “We hoped he would go to a league where he would continue to learn and grow, and certainly he’ll get good coaching in the Italian league.”
Sander is expected to move to Verona, Italy, after he wraps up his U.S. World League play.
Meanwhile there is a hole left on the team here at BYU as they look forward to next season. They have had a banner year of recruiting with a freshman class that the coaching staff is excited about, including Sander’s younger brother, Brenden.
“It’ll be tough to replace Taylor, but I think we have guys ready to step up and fill that void,” Neilson said.