Provo • Brenden Sander still gets compared to his big brother, just not nearly as often as he did when he arrived at BYU a few months after the great Taylor Sander departed.
As much as anything else, that goes to show just how well Brenden has replaced Taylor on the nationally prominent BYU men’s volleyball team. Taylor is an Olympian and a mainstay on one of the top professional teams in Italy after a sensational four-year career at BYU that concluded in 2014.
Coach Shawn Olmstead now is repeating what coaches said about Taylor four years ago as Brenden prepares for the final games of his outstanding four-year career.
“Brenden is going to leave some very large shoes to fill, for sure,” Olmstead said.
But first there’s some unfinished business. The Cougars, who have lost in the last two NCAA national championship matches, both times to Ohio State, begin postseason play Thursday by hosting the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals at Smith Fieldhouse.
Top-seeded BYU (20-6) meets No. 6-seed USC (8-19) at 7 p.m. on BYUtv; Second-seeded UCLA (23-6) and fourth-seeded Concordia Irvine (16-14) tangle at 4:30 p.m. The semifinal winners will play for the conference tournament championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“It is a little more nerve-wracking because this is my last chance and we haven’t gotten one yet,” Brenden said. “We’ve been close twice, obviously. I am definitely ready to go get that national championship, as well as all the other seniors on our team. I know those guys super well because they have been with me for four years, and I know they want it just as much as me. We are ready.”
Taylor Sander wasn’t quite able to deliver a national title despite earning all-America status four times, so the younger Sander still has that to shoot for, although he’s never been into comparing careers.
“I still hear some stuff about Taylor, which is fine because he’s a great player,” Brenden said Tuesday. “He is a great person to emulate and look up to, but hopefully I have made my own name for myself. I wanted to leave my own legacy here, and hopefully I have.”
Brenden is No. 2 on BYU’s career service aces list with 112 (Taylor had 182) and No. 6 on the school’s career kills list in the rally scoring era with 1,079. Taylor still tops that list with 1,743, a school record that may never be broken.
“It has been great here, and I am excited to see what is in the future,” Brenden said. “I am definitely sad that I have to leave this place. It has been great to me, and it has given me everything I need to go compete at the next level.”
Brenden will graduate next week with a degree in human development, and some day would like to go into hospital administration, perhaps after graduate school. But the next step is one his brother also took. He hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team and play professionally overseas.
“I am going to Anaheim [Calif.] this summer to train with the U.S. National Team. They go play all over the world,” he said. “Hopefully I will be a part of that roster and get going in that gym.”
Olmstead said he would love to have another Sander in the program, but unfortunately Brenden is the last of Steve and Kera Sander’s three accomplished athletes.
“He came in to fill the shoes of his brother, and every time that he’s had an opportunity to grow and to learn, he’s just done that,” Olmstead said, “so he’s going to be missed, as well as the other seniors. When the lights are on and the moment is there and it is time to shine, Brenden can turn it on. He can have his way at times. He’s been great.“
Just like his brother.
THURSDAY’S MPSF SEMIFINALS
Where • Smith Fieldhouse, Provo
4:30 p.m. • No. 2 UCLA (23-6) vs. No. 4 Concordia Irvine (16-14)
7 p.m. • No. 1 BYU (20-6) vs. No. 6 USC (8-19)
TV • BYUtv
BYU CAREER KILLS LEADERS
1. Taylor Sander, 1,743
2. Robb Stowell, 1,557
3. Ivan Perez, 1,494
4. Mike Wall, 1,433
5. Joaquin Acosta, 1,088
6. Brenden Sander, 1,079
BYU CAREER SERVICE ACES LEADERS
1. Taylor Sander, 182
2, Brenden Sander, 112
3. Jake Langlois, 95
4. Ivan Perez, 91
5. Rafael Paal, 90