Men’s volleyball team suffers deflating finish to memorable season

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Brenden Sander prepares to spike the ball against Ohio State. The Cougars were swept by the Buckeyes in the national title game on Saturday. (BYU Photo)
Brenden Sander prepares to spike the ball against Ohio State. The Cougars were swept by the Buckeyes in the national title game on Saturday. (BYU Photo)

BYU men’s volleyball completed a spectacular 2016 season on a sour note after a disappointing loss to Ohio State in the NCAA national tournament.

Despite the loss, head coach Shawn Olmstead wasn’t disappointed in his team.

“These are the moments when you have to dig deep and be as composed as you can,” Olmstead said. “They put a lot of pressure on us that we just couldn’t overcome in the end. I’m proud of the guys for an outstanding season.”

The team had high expectations from day one after being ranked as the No. 1 team in numerous preseason polls.

“This year’s team is just a lot more focused and we have a lot more unity than we did last year,” outside hitter Brenden Sander said before the national tournament. “This year we are unbelievably close and we’re all really good friends. With our coaches we have a bunch of respect and trust because they’ve been here before.”

The Cougars finish 2016 with an 27-4 record overall and a 19-3 record in conference play. The dominant season included a streak of 11-straight sweeps that ran through the entire month of February.

BYU finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak and were named the No. 1 seed for the MPSF tournament. They went on to win the tournament, defeating UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA.

Olmstead was named the MPSF Coach of the Year in his first season at the helm of the men’s volleyball team, becoming just the fourth coach in program history to win the award in his first season as head coach.

But Olmstead wasn’t the only Cougar to receive awards.

Sophomores Ben Patch and Brenden Sander were both First Team All-Americans, while junior Jake Langlois was a Second Team All-American. Sophomore Leo Durkin was named to the All-American Honorable Mention list.

“It’s definitely an honor to receive those awards,” Sander said. “But those are team awards. The guys on the bench are helping us get better in practice and I couldn’t hit the ball well if Leo didn’t set it. I couldn’t do half the stuff I do if my team wasn’t behind me.”

The Cougars were then given the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA tournament held at Penn State last week. The Cougars left for Pennsylvania focused on finishing a potentially historic season.

“This is the goal that we’ve been working for,” Durkin said. “Our approach has been taking things one game, one match at a time, and it’s really fun to see the culmination of all our work. We’re super grateful for the opportunity to go play at Penn State for a national title.”

They were given an automatic bye into the semifinals and were set to play against Long Beach State. BYU went on to beat Long Beach State in the semifinals 3-1 and advanced to play Ohio State in the championship match. Ohio State put on a dominating display and swept BYU 3-0. It was the first time that BYU had been swept by an opponent since January. The No. 2 Buckeyes upset the No. 1 Cougars and were crowned national champions.

 

BYU loses six seniors to graduation, including middle blocker Michael Hatch. Hatch was a major contributor to the Cougars and was honored with the Elite 90 Award. The award is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 90 championships.

“Hatch is a great kid and an outstanding teammate,” Olmstead said. “He’s just calm and cool and he does his job really well. He continues to do what he needs to do and I think a lot of the guys look at that and really take a lot from that.”

With the core of major contributors returning next season and the experience of competing for a national championship this season, the Cougars will be looking to make another run at the title when they return in 2017.

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