Provo • If men’s volleyball enjoyed the stature at BYU that men’s basketball does, something akin to Jimmermania would be sweeping the campus right about now.
Enter the “Sandman,” also known as Taylor Sander, the four-time All-America outside hitter who will be playing the final home match of his spectacular career on Saturday when No. 1 seed BYU plays host to No. 3 seed Stanford in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men’s volleyball tournament championship match.
First serve is at 7 p.m. and the match will be televised by BYUtv.
“Taylor does things on the volleyball court that no one else is capable of, and you see it just about every night,” said BYU coach Chris McGown.
One of the next steps for Sander, a 6-foot-4 senior from Huntington Beach, Calif., is Team USA and a possible appearance in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Presently, he’s trying to lead BYU (20-8) to its fourth national volleyball championship, but first since 2004.
“From the first day I saw him play, I knew he was something special,” McGown said.
Sander has seemingly saved the best for last. Some of his kills and serves have been nothing short of jaw-dropping in the past two matches as BYU swept USC in the quarterfinals last week and UC Santa Barbara in the semifinals Thursday night. The Cougars have won 25 straight matches at home.
He had 15 kills to extend his school record for career kills to 1,700, and made some plays — using finesse as much as his explosive 43-inch vertical leap — to confound the upset-minded Gauchos on Thursday night. He has hit .500 or better in both playoff games.
“We didn’t play our cleanest volleyball tonight,” Sander said. “It wasn’t close to [how well] we played against SC. The way we were able to stay composed and keep fighting, that was huge for us, and we are playing well at home. We always play well at home, and having that crowd behind us is huge.”
The Cougars will need that boisterous home crowd — it numbered 2,525 for Thursday’s semifinals — and another strong blocking performance from Sander’s teammates, such as Michael Hatch, Josue Rivera and Tim Dobbert, if they hope to handle Stanford, which has won 13 straight matches.
“They have weapons all over and they played really well [against Pepperdine], “ McGown said of the Cardinal. “It was a really impressive performance by them. I thought they acclimated well to serve and pass in the gym. … They are an all-around great team.”
BYU beat Stanford 3-1 in Provo on Jan. 24 and 3-2 in Palo Alto, Calif., on Feb. 15, but there’s not a hotter team in the country right now. Senior Brian Cook led the Cardinal with 17 kills and hit .667 on the day he was named an AVCA first team All-America for the second straight year. Senior Steven Irvin and setter James Shaw earned second-team All-America honors.
“Stanford is a tough team, and we are looking forward to playing well against them,” Sander said.
At stake is not only the MPSF tournament championship, but likely the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That’s a big deal, because seeds 3-6 have to compete in “play-in” games on Tuesday at Loyola University Chicago’s Gentile Arena while the top two seeds get byes into Thursday’s semifinals, also at Loyola.
The No. 11 Lewis Flyers (23-6) and No. 1 Loyola Ramblers (26-1) will play for the MIVA championship on Saturday.
MPSF men’s volleyball championship
P No. 1 BYU vs. No. 3 Stanford
At Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • BYUtv