BYU men’s volleyball has returned for the 2017 season. The Cougars have just scratched the surface of their season, advancing to 7-2 and claiming the No. 3 spot in AVCA national rankings.
After a trip to the 2016 NCAA national championship match, an automatic tournament bid and a MPSF conference title, BYU men’s volleyball steps into high expectations for 2017.
The team finished 27-4 last year and a 19-3 MPSF record. But the Cougars were swept by Ohio State in the 2016 National Championship match.
“Coming into the season we’ve had this general vision of ‘we’re going to get better at serving and we’re going to get better at passing,'” junior setter Leo Durkin said. “It’s something we’ve been very diligent with.”
Coming into the 2017 season the Cougars started ranked No. 1 in MPSF preseason poll and No. 3 nationally into the AVCA poll.
“We’re hungry and excited,” middle blocker Price Jarman said. “We know its going to be hard, if not harder than last year.”
Shawn Olmstead returns for his second season as head coach. In 2016 he was named MPSF Coach of the Year. Olmstead is looking toward the future with confidence in his payers.
And for good reason.
Ten players who stepped on the court last year return for the 2017 season. The Cougars only lost one starter, middle blocker Michael Hatch and added eight new players to its roster.
“It’s a positive thing having young bucks out there,” Durkin said. “It’s fun. There’s definitely a learning curve, but we’re trying to bring them along. They’re great, practice has been very, very competitive and they’ve been able to get better.”
AVCA First-Team All-American Brenden Sander and NCAA Second-Team All-America Jake Langlois both return as primary outside hitters to the 2017 team.
In the 2016 season, Sander averaged 3.16 kills per set, 1.05 digs and 0.74 blocks. Langlois averaged 2.99 kills, 1.39 digs and 0.94 blocks on the season.
Senior Kiril Meretev returns as an outside hitter, along with redshirt freshman Tanner Skabelund and true freshmen Storm Fa’agata and Zach Eschenberg.
Fa’agata has started in four matches, collecting 21 kills, five aces and 19 digs.
BYU returns two strong opposite hitters, juniors Ben Patch and Tim Dobbert.
A First-Team All-American last season, Patch recorded a team-high 4.32 kills per set, with 1.16 digs and 0.71 blocks.
Middle blocker Price Jarman returns to the court after being a consistent starter last year. Jarman averaged 1.31 blocks last year and had a team-high .508 hitting clip.
Senior Joe Grosh also returns and has been consistently starting for the Cougars this season, collecting 34 kills and 18 digs.
AVCA Honorable Mention All-American Durkin returns to start at setter for the Cougars. Durkin has 270 assists on the season thus far, with five aces and 29 digs.
Redshirt freshman Andrew Lincoln and true freshman Will Stanley will also compete for the setter position.
BYU returns starting libero Erik Sikes, who averaged a team-best two digs per game last season. Freshman Mitchel Worthington has also been starting the season, as Sikes is recovering from an injury.
Games To Watch
BYU has a tough schedule ahead, but perhaps no games will be more difficult than matchups with four Top 10 teams.
The Cougars will hosted No. 7 UC Irvine on Jan. 27-28 splitting games, losing in five on Friday night, then sweeping the Anteaters on Saturday night. No. 2 UCLA will come to Provo on Feb. 3-4. Later in the year, BYU will host No. 5 Hawaii and No. 4 Long Beach State.
Those four teams have a combined 24-6 record on the season. While the challenge of facing so many quality teams is a challenge, Jarman said the team is ready.
“We’re definitely hungry,” Jarman said. “We know how good we can be. At the end of the day, it is just the difference of a few points here and there. We know it’s right there for us, but we know it’s not easy. Everyone is super talented – there are a lot of really good teams and everyone has gotten better.”