Provo • Three-time All-America selection Taylor Sander has won every individual award imaginable during his spectacular volleyball career at BYU, so many that the senior admits he can’t quite keep track of all of them.
The product of Huntington Beach, Calif., and Norco High School might just be the best men’s volleyball player in school history. He’s in the top three, at least.
This summer, Sander will almost assuredly be a member of the USA Men’s National Team that competes in the FIVB World Championships in six cities in Poland. Experts say he’s got a chance to play for Team USA in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
He’s that good.
When “Sandman” enters the historic Smith Fieldhouse for home matches, he is greeted by a large banner made by BYU fans that proclaims his greatness. His feats are legendary, like the time last week when he posted three straight service aces against USC.
The 6-foot-4 jumping jack with the 42-inch vertical leap doesn’t quite have the rock star persona around campus that hoopster Jimmer Fredette did, but at the home of arguably BYU’s most successful sports program, Sander is the unquestioned king of the court.
“He is easily the best player in the country,” says teammate Jaylen Reyes, BYU’s plucky libero.
But there’s one thing missing from Sander’s collection of awards, honors and accolades: a national title. The Cougars have won three altogether, but their last one came in 2004, well before Sander arrived in Provo.
“I want that so badly that I can hardly stand it,” Sander said. “We came up one game short last year [losing to UC Irvine in the national championship match] and for a lot of us, it was the worst feeling of our lives. In my mind, that’s the only thing left to accomplish.”
After losing four straight matches to close out the MPSF regular season, the top-seeded Cougars and Sander got back on track Saturday with a 3-0 crushing of USC in a conference tournament quarterfinal match. The quest to make the NCAA Tournament continues Thursday night in a semifinal against fourth-seeded UC Santa Barbara in Provo (8 p.m. MDT, BYUtv).
BYU coach Chris McGown said last week the Cougars (19-8) might have to get to Saturday’s championship match to assure themselves an at-large berth in the six-team national tournament this year. The champion gets the league’s automatic berth.
For his part, Sander said he isn’t even thinking about the fact that he could be playing his final match at the Smith Fieldhouse. He said the thought of losing Thursday hasn’t crossed his mind, although UCSB drubbed the Cougars 3-1 two weeks ago in Santa Barbara and took them to five sets in Provo on March 28, the only team to do that this season.
“My last match in this place is eventually going to happen, so I just stay positive and enjoy every minute that I am out there,” Sander said. “No negative thoughts.”
Sander is already BYU’s all-time career kills leader in the rally-scoring era with 1,685 putaways, and four service aces against USC bumped his total to 175, also a school record. He needs three more aces to tie Rafael Paal’s single-season record of 51.
Would his legacy be incomplete without a championship ring?
“That is something that other people will have to come up with and talk about,” he said. “I don’t want my legacy to be what I say. I want it to be what my teammates think and coaches think.”
Thursday’s MPSF men’s volleyball semifinals
P At BYU’s Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
• Pepperdine vs. Stanford, 5 p.m.
• BYU vs. UC SantaBarbara, 8 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
Sander’s BYU volleyball career
• Three-time AVCA All-America selection
• Back-to-back MPSF Player of the Year winner in 2013, 2014
• Second player in MPSF history to earn first-team honors four times
• BYU’s rally-scoring era kills leader with 1,685
• BYU’s all-time service aces leader with 175