Provo • BYU men’s volleyball coach Shawn Olmstead isn’t exaggerating when he says his nationally prominent program will feature plenty of new faces this season, after mainstays such as Leo Durkin, Price Jarman and Brenden Sander graduated last spring.
The coach who is entering his fourth season with the men’s program after guiding BYU’s women’s program for four years could also easily add that the new faces are from faraway places.
The No. 5-ranked Cougars’ starting lineup when they open the 2019 season on Thursday night at Smith Fieldhouse against No. 7 Ohio State will include four players from outside the mainland United States: Puerto Rico’s Gabi Garcia Fernandez, Italy’s Davide Gardini, Brazil’s Felipe de Brito Ferreira and Finland’s Miki Jauhiainen.
The other expected starters are Hawaii’s Will Stanley, West Jordan’s Cyrus Fa’alogo and Zach Hendrickson of Louisville, Ky.
“I like what we are doing [with the roster],” Olmstead said. “We are big. We are physical. We’ve got some firepower. … I am really excited for this group. They are antsy. They are ready to go. They are chomping at the bit.”
BYU will do well to match what the aforementioned stars accomplished the past three seasons — trips to the national championship match in 2016 and 2017 and the national semifinals in 2018 — but Olmstead and emerging superstar Garcia Fernandez said the goal is the same for one of the sport’s perennial national powers: a national championship.
“We want to be there by May,” said Garcia Fernandez, the 2018 National Newcomer of the Year. “We want to be in the big spot again. As a team, we want to make sure everybody is on the same page and be a team and then just win the natty.”
No. 7 Ohio State at No. 5 BYU
When • Thursday 7 p.m.
Olmstead said it is a realistic goal, although everybody in the sport knows defending national champion Long Beach State will be tough to topple. The Cougars will first set their sights on defending their Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title.
They are picked to finish second in the MPSF behind UCLA, the team that downed them in the national semifinals last spring before the Bruins fell in five sets to LBSU in the national championship match.
“We always talk about where we want to be in conference, and I think if we can be in a good spot in conference every year, then we are going to be in a good spot nationally,” Olmstead said. “Yeah, we are in a position where we can talk about playing for a national championship. But I think it is important to be smart about how we approach that, in terms of our progression.”
It starts Thursday against the Buckeyes, who downed Charleston 3-0 and Penn State 3-1 last weekend. Saturday, BYU hosts No. 14 Ball State, which fell to 2-1 after losing 3-0 to UC Irvine Monday night in Muncie, Ind.
“I told the guys we are going to win matches and we are going to lose matches this year, and we have to have the right mindset as we progress and grow from those moments and how we react to those losses,” Olmstead said.
Perhaps BYU’s biggest question mark is at setter, where junior Will Stanley steps in to replace Durkin, an All-American. The 6-foot-4 Stanley picked up plenty of experience his first two seasons, however, and will be fine, Olmstead said.
“He’s been tutored well by Leo in that role and in that position,” Olmstead said. “He’s excited to take the reins, take the lead, be the quarterback of the team. ... He’s been the leader of the guys getting together off the court, doing activities, staying together. So he’s done a nice job there.”
The coach is also excited about the addition of the 6-9 Gardini, a freshman from Ravenna, Italy, whose father Andrea Gardini was a three-time Olympian and a member of three FIVB World Championship teams.
“Davide has a very high volleyball IQ and the fans will be able to see that quickly here,” Olmstead said.
Fa’alogo, a transfer from Long Beach City College who emerged in last year’s MPSF tournament, and fellow junior Andrew Lincoln are returning from injuries and could be sidelined the first few matches of the season.