The BYU men’s volleyball team has to prove itself this season.
Despite the team’s winning back-to-back titles as 2013–2014 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation champions, preseason polls have BYU picked to finish sixth both nationally and in the conference. The players don’t feel threatened by this estimation.
“Last year we weren’t favored to win it either, so we’re kind of used to it,” junior middle blocker Michael Hatch said. “We kind of like being in this underdog position.”
The Cougars enter this season without Taylor Sander, who led the 2014 team in kills and aces. Head coach Chris McGown acknowledges the strategy change needed to maintain the team’s strength.
“On one hand we’re trying to replace a guy who was our best passer, our best server and our best attacker. You don’t do that in a single player,” McGown said. “We’re replacing his points basically as a team.”
Returners Josue Rivera and Hatch are ready to take up the challenge. Rivera was second on the team in kills last season, while Hatch had the highest hitting percentage of the team’s attackers.
McGown also highlighted sophomore Tim Dobbert as a hitter who’s spent the off-season preparing to fill this role.
“He’s worked really hard, and I expect big things for him,” McGown said.
Setter Tyler Heap sustained an injury that prevented him from participating in the 2014 postseason, so Robbie Sutton filled in and helped the team reach the national semifinals. McGown said both setters are entering this season even better than before.
He also emphasized libero Jaylen Reyes’ defensive role on the court. “Jaylen has improved his game,” McGown said. “He’s always shown a lot of leadership, and he brings a ton of energy out on the floor with him.”
The Cougars fought through their first two matches of the season this past weekend with a four-set loss to second-ranked Loyola University Chicago on Friday and a victory against Lewis University in a five-set nailbiter. The team will return to Provo for a double-header against UCLA in the Smith Fieldhouse this Friday and Saturday, Jan. 16 and 17.