BYU men’s volleyball looks to build off its successes — and ultimate failure — in the 2016 season to come back even better in 2017.
The Cougars had one of the best seasons in school history in 2016. They finished with a 27-4 record and won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season and tournament titles. The dream run came to a halt when they were upset in the national title game by Ohio State.
The American Volleyball Coaches Association named four BYU men’s volleyball players to its All-American lists. Sophomore opposite Ben Patch and sophomore outside hitter Brenden Sander collected First Team All-American honors, while junior outside hitter Jake Langlois received Second Team All-American accolades, and sophomore setter Leo Durkin was added to the All-American Honorable Mention list. All four players will return next season.
But the awards didn’t end there for the Cougars.
BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead was also named the 2016 MPSF Coach of the Year.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience,” Olmstead said. “They were the ones that put in sweat and tears all year. It’s so rewarding to see them be a part of such a great experience and to be a part of a very special group.”
The Cougars lose six seniors to graduation this season, including middle blocker Michael Hatch. Hatch was honored with the Elite 90 award for his academic and on-court performance. Other seniors graduating include libero Evan Chang, opposites Carson Heninger and Matt Underwood, outside hitter Tyler Hutchins and setter Robbie Sutton.
“It’s important to slow down and enjoy the moment and the opportunity to play,” Sutton said. “The time is short, but it is so fulfilling when you take the time to enjoy it and give your heart and soul to what it has to offer.”
Replacing graduating seniors is not an easy task, but Olmstead is preparing to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“Each of those guys made an impact on this program, or a lasting impression,” Olmstead said. “You hope that some of these guys that are younger are going to look and remember some of the leadership that those guys showed and be excited to fill in those spots that they left behind.”
To help fill the void, the coaches are scouting the best high school talent in the nation while on the recruiting trail.
They travel all over the country, but focus on what Olmstead calls the “hotbeds ” of volleyball recruiting: Hawaii and California.
But young recruits won’t be the only players contributing next season. The Cougars’ core contributors of Patch, Sander, Langlois and Durkin all return next year and bring experience and leadership.
“I think experience is the biggest teacher in anything,” Olmstead said. “Their experience throughout this season and through the off-season leading into when we come back and start training together again, that’s going to be the biggest teacher alone.”
While the Cougars had a near-historic season in 2016, they are confident that they can achieve similar success in 2017.
“We know that we can get there again,” Durkin said. “We know what it’s going to take a little more than we did before. You never really understand that until you’ve done it, and I think we’ll have a little bit better understanding next year. We know the amount of work that it takes to get there and we have coaches who have been there before and can help us get back.”
Returning players have a short break for the summer. Most of them return to their homes to work because there are a limited number of scholarships for men’s volleyball. They will do their best to train hard while away until they return to work with the team in the fall.
Durkin didn’t mince words when asked about the Cougars’ expectations for 2017.
“A national championship,” Durkin said. “We’re going to continue to take things one day at a time, but I think the talk will be more about getting us back to the national championship again.”
The coaches will be hard at work to keep their players focused and put them in a position to succeed without setting their own expectations for them.
“Rarely do I put expectations on these kids,” Olmstead said. “I just ask that they give their best in everything that they do. If we constantly strive to improve in our practice, training and preparation, then we believe we’re going to be in a good spot.”
The 2016 season is over, but there will be a lot to look forward to when the Cougars return to the Smith Fieldhouse in 2017.