The BYU men’s volleyball team heads into the 2016 season ranked No. 1 in the nation in the AVCA Preseason Poll, and will once again open up its season against back-to-back NCAA defending champion Loyola-Chicago. This time, however, the Cougars will get the Ramblers in Provo, the site of the AVCA Showcase on Jan. 8.
The Cougars lost to the Ramblers in four sets last year, and Loyola-Chicago went on to win the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championship.
BYU made the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation quarterfinals before losing to USC in five sets. The Cougars finished the 2015 season fifth in the conference, one spot better than the preseason predictions.
“We’ve got an outstanding schedule, we’ve got an outstanding group of guys and players,” BYU men’s volleyball head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “And so overall, there’s good energy, good excitement, just an anticipation to get on the court and play.”
Sixteen players from last year’s team are returning, including opposite hitter Tim Dobbert, who sat out 2015 as a medical redshirt. Olmstead said the team is excited to utilize Dobbert’s presence at the net, both in blocking and attacking.
First Team All-American opposite hitter Ben Patch is also back after serving a mission. Patch had 418 kills, 126 digs and over a hundred blocks his freshman year in 2013.
“Ben Patch is a high-flying, very, very physical kid,” Olmstead said.
Both Patch and outside hitter Jake Langlois played on the national USA team in the Pan American Cup in August. Langlois led the Cougars last season with 246 kills (3.19 per set), an impressive stat for someone who didn’t play volleyball until college.
Sophomore Brenden Sander is also expected to be a key contributor. Sander was named to the All-Freshman Mountain Pacific Sports Federation team last year and is the younger brother of Taylor Sander, who played for BYU from 2010-2014.
Incoming freshmen Chandler Gibb, Andrew Lincoln, Christian Rupert and Tanner Skabelund are new to the program and will vie for playing time.
“It’s not a one-person, two-person show this year,” Patch said. “It’s going to be a team effort to win this championship, to win every game.”
This team’s strengths going into the season are its physicality and depth. Olmstead said the team hits the ball hard and high, but there are some skills they need to fine-tune before the season starts.
“We’re going to be a physical, strong team and we want to keep that as we get a little more skilled,” Olmstead said.
The Cougars look forward to playing in front of their home crowd at the Smith Fieldhouse. Patch said that “it’s just like magic” when the team and the crowd connects and feed off each other’s energy.
“For us to be successful, we need our family, our BYU family here supporting us. So that’ll be huge for us,” Patch said.
BYU will host the AVCA Showcase Friday, Jan. 8 and Saturday, Jan. 9 at the Smith Fieldhouse. The Cougars will play Loyola-Chicago on Friday and George Mason on Saturday, with game times set for 7 p.m. UC Irvine will also participate in the tournament, but will not play BYU until later on in the season.