The BYU men's volleyball team huddles after the title game loss, as Hawaii celebrates on the other side of the net. (BYU Photo)

Expectations for BYU men’s volleyball season ride high despite roster turnover

The BYU men’s volleyball team is looking to return to the national championship game this season after losing in last year’s final to Hawaii. While almost half of last year’s team is gone, BYU’s roster is full of replacements hungry to prove themselves.

Despite the turnover, national pundits are still bullish on BYU, as the Cougars are ranked No. 6 in the nation heading into their first game this Thursday.

Last year’s team went 20-4, with all of the losses coming to top-10 teams. The squad was veteran-heavy, with many key contributors including Zach Eschenberg, Miki Jauhiainen and Will Stanley using the extra year afforded by COVID-19 rules to return for a fifth season.

Those three are gone, as are notable seniors Felipe de Brito Ferreira and Gabi Garcia Fernandez. All five started last year’s national title game and filled up the stat sheet for BYU, leaving a large hole on the court.

New year, new team

BYU welcomes 10 new players this season. Sophomores Kupono Browne from Stanford and Bartosz Slawinski from Barton College are transfer students joined by eight incoming freshmen. Four of those freshmen are from California with the other four from Hawaii and Nevada.

Head coach Shawn Olmstead continues his impressive international recruiting abilities, as Alessandro Gianotti joins the team from Milan, Italy. Gianotti’s resume includes a gold medal with Italy’s U19 team at the 2019 World Championship.

The 2021 season will include 14 home matches at the Smith Fieldhouse with 10 more on the road. BYU faces a strong contingent of preseason ranked teams. The season begins with two games at No. 5 Penn State and concludes when the Cougars host No. 2 UCLA for a pair of matches.

In between, BYU faces four unranked teams with one team, USC, receiving votes for the top 15 poll. In Provo, home fans will be treated to matches versus No. 9 Grand Canyon, No. 10 UC San Diego, No. 12 UC Irvine and No. 15 Ball State. With such a strong schedule, BYU will be battle-tested before the NCAA Tournament, an important requirement for any championship team.

BYU is the defending Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference champion and is looking to win its third title in five seasons. The Cougars have also been to four of the last five national Final Fours, losing in the national championship game three times.

This will be Olmstead’s seventh season in charge. The BYU alumnus played for the team from 2001-2004, winning two national championships as a player. Olmstead has a 125-33 record, good for a .791 winning percentage.

How to watch

The two games at Penn State this week will be on Thursday and Saturday, with both starting at 5 p.m. MST. The matches will be streamed on bigtenplus.com.

The Cougars’ first home series is Jan. 21-22. Both games start at 7 p.m. MST versus No. 12 UC Irvine at the Smith Fieldhouse.

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