Nearly 2 decades later, can No. 2 BYU men’s volleyball finally end national championship drought?

PROVO – It’s been 17 years since BYU men’s volleyball won a national championship in 2004, but never felt so close as the Cougars landed number 2 in Columbus for this year’s tournament.

Of course, BYU was close to its fourth title, only to painfully miss the ultimate goal. This year could prove to be no exception. Hawaii No. 1 is still the top-rated team in the country despite losing in the Big West semi-finals more than two weeks ago.

That was the Warriors’ first loss of the season. Before UC San Diego’s formidable surprise, you had to go back to last season to score another loss – on the islands, during a two-game split with the same BYU team now on the opposite side of UC Seven teams at the Covelli Center on the Ohio State University campus.

Aside from one surprise, the two teams will likely meet again on Saturday evening (6:00 p.m. MT, ESPNU) in the final of the NCAA tournament. But men’s volleyball is a regular riot, with only five conferences offering sponsorship programs at the Division I-II level and BYU – which is one of the top programs in the country for most of its varsity – found many opportunities has to fall before the ultimate goal, but upset or otherwise.

So it could be with UC Santa Barbara, who will face rival Hawaii from Big West in the semifinals on Thursday, or Lewis, the MIVA champion, who will face the Cougars in the second semifinals (6 p.m. MT, NCAA.com ).

However, this does not reduce BYU’s drive.

?: Zach Eschenberg was 8 years old when @byuvolleyball last won the title … listen to him how motivated this team has to be their best # BYUMVB | # GoCougspic.twitter.com/zFgMXnqH66

– BYU Volleyball (@BYUvolleyball) May 5, 2021

“I can’t even talk about the drive for this program to win a national championship,” said outside hitter Zach Eschenberg, who was 8 years old when BYU last won a national title. “The number of years from observing as a kid to joining the team, being right there and not being able to do it, kept us all motivated.

“We know we can do it. We want it badly. There are a lot of good teams so we have to deserve it. But knowing that we were close and have the potential to do so is a great motivating factor.” . “

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic ended, college season ended prematurely as BYU had better odds than ever before. BYU coach Shawn Olmstead held the band together, bringing seniors like Eschenberg, setter Wil Stanley, middle blocker Miki Jauhiaianen and back others to meet up with Gabi Garcia Fernandez, a natural senior, to win the championship.

The path begins, however, with Lewis, Division II from Romeoville, Illinois, taking on the Cougars for the first time since 2004 in the NCAA tournament – the last of BYU’s three titles in six years.

The Flyers are in 5th place nationwide with 13.10 kills per set, 3rd place with a hit rate of 0.345, 2nd place with 2.892 blocks per set and 4th place in the opponent’s hit rate (0.204).

“We’ll keep playing our game,” said Olmstead, who played Libero in the 2001 and 2004 BYU title teams and finished second at Lewis in 2003. “We’re going to be really aggressive. I’m confident.” It’s going to be two great teams with two great schedules. I’m sure we’ll see great games tomorrow. “

BYU versus Gabi Garcia Fernandez rules a kill during a pre-training session prior to the NCAA tournament semifinals against Lewis # 3 on Wednesday May 5, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio.BYU versus Gabi Garcia Fernandez rules a kill during a pre-training session prior to the NCAA tournament semifinals against Lewis # 3 on Wednesday May 5, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo: Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

The Flyers (21-2) are fresh from EIVA Champion Penn State and are looking for their first title since 2004 and their sixth tournament win on Thursday. The Flyers are led by senior outside hitter Ryan Coenen, a .347 smasher who averages 4.42 kills per set.

Lewis also puts his mids well above BYU – 611 times this season, or 325 times more than BYU, according to Off the Block – while both Tyler Mitchum and TJ Murray average more than one block per set.

The Flyers are only 2: 18 against BYU, but in their last postseason game against an MPSF team they won 3: 1 against the No. 1 at the time. 5 USC in 2019.

BYU (19-3) has not played since beating Pepperdine in the final of the MPSF tournament on April 24th (of Lewis and the play-in match between Penn State and Belmont Abbey).

The Cougars have the legs, but the Flyers have the momentum. Both sides can take advantage of the appointment, including BYU, which trained in Columbus on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the semifinals.

“I really like this break,” said Stanley. “We had a few things to work on and this extra week gave us time to help me connect with my hits and refine every little thing.”

NCAA men’s volleyball tournament

Thursday semifinals

No. 1 Hawaii (15-1) v UC Santa Barbara (16-4)

Serve first: 3 p.m. MT

Streaming: NCAA.com

No. 2 BYU (19-3) versus No. 3 Lewis (21-2)

Serve first: 6 p.m. MT

Streaming: NCAA.com

Championship on Saturday

Semi-final winner

Serve first: 6 p.m. MT

TV: ESPNU

Streaming: WatchESPN

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