The BYU men’s volleyball team was riding a high when the season got canceled last year. Now, the Cougars are happy to be hosting the MPSF Tournament.

The conference action is set to start Thursday and end Saturday.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) BYU’s Gabi Garcia Fernandez hits the ball as the Cougars face the Lewis Flyers at the Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018.

Last year, BYU men’s volleyball was at the height of its season. The Cougars had the top national ranking and were poised to make a run to the NCAA Tournament title game.

But then the pandemic put a stop to all that.

For days after the 2020 season was canceled, coach Shawn Olmstead continued to get asked how he felt about having the spectacular season come to an end abruptly. He quickly got annoyed by those questions.

“I remember almost this guilty feeling, like ‘it’s just sports,’” Olmstead said. “People are dealing with life, death, jobs, occupations and family members and elderly family. That’s real life, this was just a sport. Because I had to answer those questions, … there was honestly a part of me that says ‘don’t feel bad for us.’”

While the pandemic continues, athletic departments all over the country have figured out how to hold sports seasons safely. It has forced last-minute schedule changes and uncertainty, but one thing has been cemented recently: BYU will host the MPSF Tournament this week at the Smith Fieldhouse.

The top-seeded Cougars will have a bye in Thursday’s quarterfinals and then face the lowest remaining seed in a semifinal, Friday at 7 p.m. The championship match will take place Saturday at 7 p.m.

Then, the BYU will await its NCAA Tournament fate, which will be revealed April 25.

While the Cougars aren’t the same as they were last year — even though all the players returned — they still have the same goal: to vie for a national championship.

Olmstead said he warned his team they could fall into “the curse” of thinking they’d start back up right where they left off because they had all the same players and then some.

“That wasn’t the case,” Olmstead said. “We go right off the bat and lose our first game of the year, when the season before we went almost 20 games without losing one all the way til the end. Every single year, no matter the makeup of your players and your personnel, we all change. We all grow, and sometimes we grow in different ways. So, we’ve got to kind of come back together, kind of come back to a common goal and a common, specific outlook so that we’re all on the same page.”

Surprisingly, junior outside hitter Davide Gardini said the team has struggled more at home than they have on the road. Still, he expects the action at the Smith Fieldhouse at the end of the week to be jam-packed.

The Italian native is also excited to finally get the experience of hosting the conference tourney, particularly because of the fans the Cougars usually draw in.

“I feel pretty confident — I like it,” Gardini said. “And we also know that these teams are going to come and they’re going to come and they’re going to bring it. So it’s going to be a fight no matter what, but knowing that we’re going to play at home is going to be good. And I’m happy that we’re going to have two more games at home for sure.”