Provo • Just when it looked like BYU’s men’s volleyball team was the odds-on favorite to win the NCAA volleyball national championship this season, Hawaii happened.
The Cougars were swept by the No. 10 Warriors 3-2 and 3-0 last weekend, snapping their six-match winning streak.
Upon returning home from the islands, the Cougars, who dropped to 18-4 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, 18-6 overall, dropped from No. 2 to No. 3 in the national rankings.
And they got a pep talk from a legend, former coach Carl McGown, who is now a volunteer assistant coach with the program. He’s also the father of the current head coach, Chris McGown. The elder McGown, who coached the team for 13 years and led it to two national championships, reminded the players that there were going to be nights like the ones they suffered through at Hawaii, but that they would be offset by nights where the team played phenomenally well.
“He talked about seeing a vision of us as national champions,” Chris McGown said. “The guys really took heart in those comments. I think it is so much a part of our culture that we win. We expect to, and we want to, and so when we don’t, we take it hard. I like that part of our team. We are not used to losing, we are used to winning. So when we lose, it really hurts.”
The McGowns and another legendary coach on the staff — former Hawaii coach Mike Wilton — have spent the last few days helping the Cougars get past the losses, and reminding them that Hawaii played really, really well.
“We were hanging our heads after those losses, but we came back with a pretty good week of practices,” Chris McGown said. “At Hawaii, the crowds were loud, and put us in an environment where it was noisy, and crazy, and it wasn’t noisy and crazy for us [like at home]. So that was a little bit different, too, to have a crowd get after us that much.”
Up next for BYU is another road trip to close out the MPSF regular season. The Cougars play at UC Santa Barbara on Friday night and at UCLA on Saturday night. They downed the No. 5 Gauchos and No. 9 Bruins two weeks ago in Provo, but road matches in the MPSF are extremely difficult to win, said sophomore middle blocker Michael Hatch.
The Cougars have clinched the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament, which begins on April 19 with a quarterfinal match at the Smith Fieldhouse against the No. 8 seed. However, they need to win one more match to secure the outright conference title.
“We are playing for pride, and to go into the conference tournament strong and confident,” Hatch said. “We have the home court wrapped up [BYU will host the semifinals and finals April 24 and 26 if it wins on the 19th], but we are out to prove to everyone that we are still the best team.”
Despite the losses at Hawaii, Chris McGown said the Cougars continue to improve.
Senior outside hitter Taylor Sander is the unquestioned star, but he is getting help from Hatch and Devin Young in the middle and Tim Dobbert and Matt Underwood at the opposite position. Jaylen Reyes is developing into a better passer, and outside hitter Josue Rivera is improving in that area as well.
“There is some [seeding] at stake [for] UCLA, but for us, more than anything, it is a chance to rebound, go play hard, and keep the momentum swing our way as we head into the playoffs,” Chris McGown said.
O Friday • at UC Santa Barbara, 8 p.m. MDT
Saturday • at UCLA, 8 p.m.
April 19 • MPSF quarterfinal vs. No. 8 seed at Provo, 7 p.m.