It’s match point. The Smith Fieldhouse echoes with noise as No. 2 UCLA leads BYU 14-13. One more point and UCLA wins the match. It is Miki Jauhiainen’s first season playing for the Cougars. He witnesses his teammate, Price Jarman, win the game for BYU a few points later with a solo block. The fieldhouse erupted with cheers as fans stormed the court.
“That was one of my first games,” Jauhiainen said. “And I was like, ‘This country is crazy!’”
The Finnish senior is one of four starters on the men’s volleyball team who are playing outside of their home cultures. Each them traveled a unique road to be at the successful program they are at now.
“My dad has been playing volleyball for as long as I can remember,” Jauhiainen said. This was his introduction to the sport as it is not very popular in Finland.
He eventually followed in his father’s footsteps and became good enough that he had the desire to play at the next level. Former assistant coach Luka Slabe ended up sealing the deal on Jauhiainen’s recruitment to BYU.
Jauhiainen would be joined by teammates Felipe de Brito Ferreira and Gabi Garcia Fernandez just one year later.
Brazilian-born Ferreira quickly realized BYU is where he wanted to play after he had his first official visit.
“I came here for my official visit and I just loved everything,” Ferreira said.
Fernandez, who is originally from Puerto Rico — a U.S. territory — explained that BYU was not his first choice for volleyball, unlike Ferreira and Jauhiainen. Fernandez had originally committed to California Baptist University, but they shut down the volleyball program shortly after his commitment. BYU eventually contacted him and he was quick to respond to the invitation.
Just one short year after Ferreira and Fernandez started playing, Italian-born Davide Gardini joined the team.
Gardini grew up playing soccer, but the longer he played, the more he realized he was too tall for soccer. His parents and sister played volleyball, so it seemed like the obvious switch.
“I fell in love with volleyball,” Gardini said. “And it’s been a good thing.”
He left home at age 14 to go play in Rome for four years before coming to BYU. Recruiters from BYU found Gardini after an international competition and invited him to make an official visit. He ended up liking the university and decided it was the place to pursue his volleyball career.
Each of these players has adjusted to living life in the states and attending a university much different than their homes.
Ferreira said that adjusting took some time, especially with the culture, while Gardini said that leaving behind Italian cuisine was one of the hardest parts for him.
“I was raised Christian,” Ferreira said. “But it’s good for me to be more in touch with the (religious) culture.”
Despite the thousands of miles of distance, each of the players’ families has continued to lovingly support their players.
“(My family) loves that fact that I’m here,” Fernandez says. “They enjoy it more than I do to be honest.”