BYU volleyball: Cougars look loose and relaxed as semifinal rematch with LBSU looms

First Published      Last Updated May 03 2017 06:07 pm

BYU men’s volleyball » They’re excited to play rival 49ers again.

Columbus, Ohio • BYU junior Ben Patch joked about his new bleach-blonde hairdo as opposed to last year's "taxidermy on my head," while coach Shawn Olmstead discussed his favorite brand of bubble gum and senior Jake Langlois said one of the advantages to being married is he doesn't have to "stay out and date" and can go to bed at 9 p.m. every night.

To say the third-seeded BYU Cougars are loose and carefree as they approach Thursday's NCAA Tournament semifinal match against second-seeded Long Beach State would be an understatement. First serve is at 4 p.m MDT, and the winner will face the winner of No. 4 Hawaii and No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday for the national championship.

Jokes and good-natured ribbing flowed easily among Patch, Langlois, libero Erik Sikes and their coach in Wednesday's 20-minute news conference, a far cry from a year ago at Penn State when the Cougars were favorites and had a more no-nonsense approach.

Olmstead's team is considered the underdog Thursday because LBSU swept them 3-0 on March 25 in Provo, a night after the Cougars had eked out a 3-2 decision over the 49ers at jam-packed Smith Fieldhouse.

"We respect every single team that we play, and approach [LBSU] with the same mindset and respect, definitely," Patch said. "I think mentally we are just excited to play a good Long Beach State team."

Long Beach State (27-3) placed four players on the AVCA All-America First Team: outside hitter TJ DeFalco, setter Josh Tuaniga, middle blocker Amir Lugo-Rodriguez and libero Andrew Sato. BYU had one first-team All-American, Langlois.

"We learned we have to keep the same energy and momentum we had the first night if we want to compete with them," Sikes said.

A year ago, BYU rolled past LBSU 3-1 in the NCAA semifinals before falling 3-0 to Ohio State. Confidence will be a big factor in the rematch.

"Both are going to be two confident teams from a great volleyball conference going to battle in the Final Four," Olmstead said. "What a great setting, and what a great match it should be."

Long Beach State hasn't played since it defeated Hawaii 3-1 in the MPSF tournament championship match on April 24, but coach Alan Knipe said that will "absolutely not" put the 49ers at a disadvantage.

LBSU played Ohio State here on Jan. 28, falling 3-1 to the No. 1 Buckeyes. BYU and USC are the only two other teams to have defeated the 49ers.

Langlois, on the other hand, said playing Tuesday can only help the Cougars.

"We got four days to play in a gym that none of us were familiar with, so I think it is an advantage," he said.

In Tuesday's play-in victory against Barton College, Olmstead started Tim Dobbert at opposite hitter and brought Patch off the bench in the second set. Patch, who has said he is moving on from BYU after this season, completed the match, posting five aces. Olmstead isn't saying who will start Thursday.

Patch, who served his church mission in this area, said he is still "trying to grapple" with not being a starter after being one his entire career at BYU until he suffered a groin injury in early February.

"It is a new thing for me," he said. "It has been humbling in a lot of ways."

He was fantastic against Barton, but the Bulldogs are nowhere close to Long Beach State, which will leave the MPSF next season because the Big West has added volleyball. Knipe said the 49ers will continue to schedule BYU because it is "too important an experience to miss out on."

As for the Cougars, they want to take down LBSU when it matters most.

"The message is always going to be the same," Olmstead said. "Our guys will compete. Whatever approach we had from that night when they beat us, we will learn from that. These guys understand. They know how good that team is, but they are confident in themselves, too. They know how good they are."

drew@sltrib.com Twitter: @drewjay



NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championships

At St. John Arena, Columbus, Ohio

Thursday’s Semifinal Matches

No. 3 BYU (25-4) vs. No. 2 Long Beach State (27-3), 4 p.m. MDT

No. 4 Hawaii (27-5) vs. No. 1 Ohio State (30-2), 6 p.m. MDT

Saturday’s Championship Match

Semifinal winners, 5 p.m. MDT (ESPN2)