(Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah -- After finishing the 2012 season with a No. 4 national ranking and a 24-7 record, the BYU men’s volleyball team is back and ready for another successful campaign in 2013. The team returns All-American Taylor Sander and two All-MPSF selections to its loaded roster.
The Cougars were chosen as the No. 2 team in the nation in the AVCA Division I-II Preseason poll for 2013 behind defending NCAA national champion UC Irvine. BYU was also chosen second in the MPSF Preseason Coaches’ Poll behind the Anteaters.
With a high expectation for success, the team has been preparing to perform to its best ability this season and is eager to get the season underway Jan. 4 as it welcomes Hawai'i to the Smith Fieldhouse.
Head coach Chris McGown is back at the helm for BYU for his second season.
“We at BYU enjoyed a solid 2012 year, and are again optimistic going into the 2013 season,” McGown said. “We graduated several key players at opposite, middle and setter, but those that we have stepping into those roles are working hard to live up to those standards set by their predecessors.”
The Cougars kick off the 2013 season with 10 home matches, facing Hawai'i, 2012 NCAA Final Four participant Lewis, 2012 NCAA National Champion UC Irvine, UC San Diego, Long Beach, Northridge, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA. The team plays 16 home matches this season with nine of them broadcast on national television through BYUtv.
After the long home stand, BYU heads to California for a brief stint on the road with matches against Pepperdine and 2012 NCAA Final Four participant USC. The Cougars then return home to welcome Pacific and Stanford.
The second half of the season sends BYU on another trip to California with match ups against UC Irvine and UC San Diego. The Cougars take a quick trip back home to welcome Cal Baptist before returning to California to visit Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State. Pepperdine and USC then travel to the Smith Fieldhouse.
BYU finishes out the season on the road with back-to-back weekends on the West Coast facing UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, Pacific and Stanford to prove itself before the MPSF tournament April 20-27.
The Cougars return their entire outside hitting group comprising of the five players who saw time last season, including All-American Taylor Sander. Sander led the MPSF last season as a sophomore in kills per set and was 3rd for aces per set. The All-MPSF First Team honoree led the Cougars with 435 kills, 4.89 kills per set and 44 aces. Also returning is sophomore Josue Rivera who started every match in 2012 and led the team with 186 digs.
Joining Sander and Rivera are junior Andrew Heap, sophomore Phil Fuchs and freshman Bennett Bird.
Poised to take over the starting opposite position is freshman Ben Patch. Patch joins the team with a highly recognized resume including a recent MVP award in the NORCECA Championships. Volleyball Magazine ranked Patch, a native of Provo, Utah, as one of the top 10 recruits for his class. A member of the 2012 U.S. Junior National Team and Utah’s Volleyball MVP, Patch provides a promising future as a Cougar.
Also competing for the opposite hitter position are seniors Erik Mayer and Steve Rindfleisch, and sophomore Matt Underwood. Sophomore Carson Heninger will redshirt this season after transferring from Mount Royal University in Canada last season.
Senior Russ Lavaja returns as BYU’s dominating middle blocker. Lavaja started every match for the Cougars in 2012 and was named a Preseason All-American. The senior was named to the All-MPSF Second Team last season and finished No. 6 in the NCAA in blocks per set. Lavaja led BYU in blocks (168), block assists (157) and hitting percentage (.431) in 2012.
Competing for the second starting position are juniors Nick Valencia and Devin Young, and freshmen Joseph Grosh and Michael Hatch.
Taking over the starting setter position for BYU is senior Ryan Boyce. Boyce split time in 2012 with former teammate Joe Kauliakamoa and racked up 197 assists in 29 sets, including five starts.
Sophomore Tyler Heap and freshman Robbie Sutton fill in for further depth in the position.
Sophomore Jaylen Reyes returns as the Cougars’ libero after starting 11 matches in 2012. Reyes finished the season ranked 37th in assists per set. Freshman Evan Chang joins Reyes at the position with experience at the national level.