When the news that the West Coast Conference tournament would be canceled this year due to financial reasons was announced, BYU wasn’t too concerned. The Cougars felt confident they would still be able to make the NCAA Tournament.
But they won’t.
The only way the Cougars could make the NCAA Tourney would be by playing the WCC Tournament and winning it all. That’s not happening.
And the team has come to terms with that.
“It’s interesting because we’ve won the league three of the last four years that we played a complete season, so interestingly enough I was kind of an advocate of not having a tournament, just having the league winner because we won it 75% if the time the last four years,” coach Mike Littlewood said. “So, I was OK with the decision, but this is actually one of those years that, if there was a tournament, we would be right there knocking on the door during the tournament. I understand — I’m not frustrated or anything about it. … This would definitely be the year that would benefit us to have a tournament.”
With the postseason out of the Cougars’ grasp, the team isn’t overlooking the last week of the regular season. Instead, they’re hoping to continue to grow over the last four games, starting on Tuesday against Utah at 6 p.m.
Part of BYU’s struggles this year, Little believes, is in part to how young the team is, which led to the Cougars having to find their identity.
Conference leader Gonzaga and second ranked San Diego both had multiple seniors from last season return this year. BYU had one.
While the Cougars had a top 25 recruiting class in 2019, those freshmen only had 16 games to play in before the 2020 season was canceled. Essentially, it was like those players were still freshmen coming into the 2021 season.
It also didn’t help that the season started with such big obstacles.
“We show up and in the first week, we play Texas State on the road and then we play Texas, who was a top five team,” junior outfielder Cole Gambill said. “I think for a lot of guys on the team, it was almost overwhelming. Like, Texas is this big school, big stadium, bright lights and everything else. So, it was a real challenge for us.”
But over the last few weeks, the Cougars have seemingly started figuring out their identity and started stringing together more wins. Since being swept by Gonzaga in late April, BYU has won nine of its last 11 games.
Gambill said the team just has to continue to grind because there’s a lot of teams who have more offensive talent than the Cougars and, while the pitching has been good all season, the offense as a whole has to be more scrappy.
“We’ve got to grind and play relaxed,” Gambill said. “And I think those are things that we didn’t really do at the beginning of the year. We were just always uptight and tense. And when we were taking on that identity of being tense and all those kind of things at the beginning of the year just wasn’t working for us.”
While the obvious goal for the Cougars is to continue getting experience for player development to help set up the team for success this year, Gambill said it’s also important for the team to close out the season with as many wins as possible.
“We still need to go in and win these games because just winning is so important,” Gambill said. “Winning breeds confidence. Maybe that’s the one word I can say that we struggled with the most this year is just being confident in our abilities, being confident in the talent that we have. I think that’s why these games are so important. We need to go and we need to win, but really we need to ride that momentum that we kind of have right now and just build confidence so that we can come back even better.”