(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Collecting numerous awards throughout an impressive 29-4 overall season and 20-2 record in conference, the top-ranked Cougars accomplished what they set out to do at the beginning of the year -- taking home a national title.
Entering the NCAA Final Four as the top seed and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season and tournament champions, BYU cruised past defending national champion Lewis University during the semi-final match.
After sweeping the Flyers in the semifinals, the Cougars advanced to the NCAA championship match for the fourth time in the last six years, facing formidable Long Beach State. With a close win in the fifth game at 19-17, BYU earned its third national championship, beating the 49ers for the fourth time during the season.
With the title, head coach Tom Peterson became the first coach in NCAA history to win a national championship at two different schools. Peterson made history in 1994 after leading Penn State to a national title and becoming the first school outside of California to win the championship.
In its 15th season since joining the NCAA, BYU continued to build its reputation as a national powerhouse with another 20-win season in 2004 -- its seventh 20-win season. The 29 victories were the second highest number of wins in BYU's history. With a 29-4 record, the men's volleyball program now has 257 wins in its storied history. The 2004 Cougars also became the second team in BYU men's volleyball history to win both the league's regular-season and tournament titles. The first time BYU won both was in 1999.
During Peterson's two-year tenure, the Cougars have made two national championship appearances with a 3-1 record in the Final Four and 52-11 overall record (.825). With an explosive and balanced offense, BYU often confused its opponents with five solid hitters, helping the team to the second-best hitting percentage in the nation at .365. The team had three hitters averaging more than 3.0 kills per game and the two middle blockers averaging more than 2.4 kills per game. The Cougars also continued to be a top-blocking team, averaging 5.46 blocks per game in conference action and ranking second in the nation.
Much of BYU's success and offensive firepower throughout the season, especially in postseason action, came from the experience of the setter. As a three-year starter, junior Carlos Moreno earned the Cougars' first AVCA National Player of the Year and was also named the MVP of the Final Four. Moreno tacked on multiple honors during the season, including First-team All American, MPSF Player of the Year and MVP of the MPSF Tournament.
His season total of 1,689 assists helped him pass Chris Pitzak and Hector Lebron on BYU's all-time assist board for a career total of 4,628, moving him into second place behind Jason Watson. Moreno was also named AVCA National Player of the Week after leading the Cougars over fifth-ranked Pepperdine and setting a season-high of 77 assists on Mar. 13.
Senior Fernando Pessoa, an outside hitter from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, led the team with 4.10 kills per game, while earning first team All-American honors and being named to the NCAA All-Tournament team. After playing libero for three years and switching to the outside for his senior year, Pessoa ranked second on BYU's squad with 1.60 digs per game and averaged a .365 hitting percentage. He was also named AVCA National Player of the Week on two different occasions during the season.
BYU made history by setting a new school record of 21-straight victories, passing the 18-match win streak set by the 1999 National Champions. After climbing the USA Today/AVCA Coaches Top-15 Poll, the Cougars finally reached the No. 1 spot on Mar. 9, but had to share it with the UCLA Bruins. After two wins at home over fifth-ranked Pepperdine, BYU secured the top ranking and held on throughout the remainder of the season. The Cougars spent 10 straight weeks ranked No. 1 on the AVCA Coaches Top-15 Poll.
Earning second team All-America honors, senior opposite Joe Hillman ranked second on the team in kills with 3.57 per game and led BYU in kills for 10 matches during the season. He has also recorded more than 10 kills in 25 matches. Hillman, a native of Las Vegas, recorded 19 kills and hit a .500 average in the MPSF championship match against Long Beach State, which earned him all-tournament honors.
In his first season with the Cougars, sophomore Victor Batista made a significant contribution in the middle blocker position, which helped him earn second-team All-America honors. With two experienced middles out with injuries in the beginning of the season, Batista stepped in to average 2.44 kills per game while hitting a .452 percentage. He also led the team with 1.28 blocks per game.
Home Court Domination
Behind an experienced line of seniors, the Cougar squad posted a 16-1 home record with the only loss coming at the beginning of the season against Cal State Northridge. BYU also held a 15-match win streak at home with crucial wins over UC Irvine, Pepperdine and Long Beach State during the MPSF Tournament.
The Cougars beat teams like Pacific, Santa Barbara and Stanford at home this season, all in three games. BYU was also known for coming back from behind, which became a strength for the team in the championship match against Long Beach State. In four matches this season, the Cougars came back to win from being down 2-0.
Through 17 home matches this season, the Cougars averaged 2, 625 fans per match. BYU's average home attendance figure ranks second in the nation behind Hawai`i. When the team traveled, so did its fans. In eight of the Cougars' road trips this season, opponents have benefited from an increase in attendance, compared to their season average.
The Cougars earned three AVCA National Player-of-the-Week honors during the season. Pessoa earned the award twice this season, first on Jan. 20 and again on Feb. 24. Moreno earned the award on Mar. 15 after leading BYU to back-to-back wins over fifth-ranked Pepperdine and helping the team reach the No. 1 ranking in the nation.
BYU started the season with a trip to Malibu to play Pepperdine in two nonconference matches. The Cougars opened the season with two losses to the Waves, both in three games. Preseason injuries left the team a little shaky, with inexperience in the middle position. Junior middle blocker Michael Burke suffered a torn pectoral ligament, but recovered faster than expected and joined the team midseason. Another injury in Chris Gorny, a senior middle blocker, made the position a vulnerable area for the Cougars.
The addition of Victor Batista, a native of the Dominican Republic, gave the Cougars a boost in the middle, especially in the first home matches against fifth-ranked Cal State Northridge. Although Batista hit six kills on seven swings and the Cougars swept the Matadors the night before, BYU fell in five games.
Even with a slow 1-3 record to begin the season, the team regrouped and closed out January with four straight wins on the road, including two over non-conference opponent Ohio State and two close matches over Long Beach State.
The Cougars returned home in February to play a four-match stand, welcoming conference opponents Pacific and Stanford. BYU had no problem handling Pacific, sweeping the Tigers in three games in both matches and hitting a .410 percentage for the week. Senior Jonathan Alleman led the team in both matches with 11 and 16 kills.
During the following week against Stanford, the Cougars faced off against the Cardinal in a national televised broadcast. Hitting a career-best .700 percentage, Pessoa racked up 16 kills in Friday's match to lead the team in a 3-0 victory and helped the team sweep Stanford the next night with 20 kills. Pessoa averaged 6.0 kills, 2.33 digs and .50 blocks, while hitting .681 to earn his second honor of AVCA National Player of the Week. BYU finished out the month with two road wins over UC Irvine, extending to 10-straight victories.
The Cougar squad enjoyed four more matches at home in March, sweeping UC Santa Barbara both nights. Alleman and Pessoa paced the Cougar offense with 12 kills each, marking the 12th double-digit total of the season for both players. Burke posted a match-high of eight blocks in Saturday's match, while adding eight kills and four digs.
After two wins over Pepperdine the next week, the Cougars became the top ranking on the AVCA Top 15 Coaches Poll. In Friday's match, BYU held Pepperdine to a .000 hitting percentage in the first game, while beating them 30-18. In Saturday's match, Moreno tallied a season high of 77 assists to the Cougars' second win over Pepperdine, which earned him AVCA National Player of the Week.
In front of its largest crowds of the season, BYU traveled to Hawai'i and came back to Provo with two wins, extending to a 16-match win streak. The Warriors made it tough in the second match, coming out on fire and leading the game series, 2-0. But in game three Hawai'i returned to a very determined BYU team. The Cougars grabbed the momentum in game four, hitting error free for the majority of the game and finished the match 15-11 in the final game.
BYU hosted two non-conference teams during the next week, Lewis and George Mason. The Cougars dropped the first game to the Lewis, but put together three straight games to dash the Flyers' hopes of another upset. Using seven players off the bench in the win over George Mason, the Cougars dismantled the Patriots 3-0 in just an hour and 15 minutes.
April was a critical month for the Cougars' hopes to return to the NCAA Final Four. BYU went 7-1, beating UC San Diego and USC in the final matches of the regular season. The Cougars split with UCLA to clinch the MPSF regular-season title -- the loss ended the win streak but BYU set a new school record at 21-straight victories in a single season.
After sweeping eighth-seeded UC Irvine in the MPSF First Round, the Cougars hosted the conference tournament as the remaining No. 1 seed for the third time in school history. Setter Carlos Moreno finished the night against the Anteaters with 38 assists, moving him past Hector Lebron into second place among BYU's all-time assist leaders.
BYU defended its home court against fourth-seeded Pepperdine in an emotional five-game thriller, advancing to the championship match for the fourth time. The Cougars put together a team effort with five players in double-digit kills. Moreno came short of his season high with 74 assists, but posted his first double-double of the season by adding 10 digs.
The top-ranked Cougar squad overcame a game-one loss to claim the MPSF Tournament Championship over Long Beach State, earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Final Four. Joe Hillman led BYU with 19 kills while hitting a .500 percentage. Pessoa chipped in a double-double performance with 14 kills and 12 digs, earning a place of the MPSF All-Tournament team. Moreno paced the Cougars with 66 assists, helping the team hit an impressive .422 clip for the match. As a key to the team's success in the tournament, Moreno was named the MVP of the tournament.
BYU entered the NCAA Tournament as the top seed, facing Lewis in the semifinals. After a solid performance and a skilled 3-0 victory, the Cougars turned away the Flyers at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. BYU used a balanced attack with three players tacking on at least 11 kills. The team also hit a .382 attack percentage and held a 31-22 dig advantage, in addition to the 9-5 blocking margin.
Overcoming a 10-6 deficit in game five, the Cougars rallied back in a close five-game thriller to win the 2004 NCAA National Collegiate Men's Volleyball Championship on over Long Beach State. The win marks the third national title for the Cougars and their second in the past four years. It also marked the sixth straight win over the 49ers, dating back to the 2003 season. BYU and LBSU met four times this season, with the Cougars winning all four matches -- three in five-game thrillers.
Alleman led the team with 17 points on 13 kills, Hillman added 14 kills and Pessoa turned in 13 kills. Burke charted seven kills and seven block assists in the victory. Moreno earned the tournament's most outstanding player award, as he led the Cougars to a .252 attack average in the championship match with 51 assists, three kills and four block assists. Victor Batista contributed nine kills with a team-high .538 hitting percentage.
"I don't know how many matches we were down this season, but it was a big number," Peterson said after the match. "Maybe it's because we've been there before, maybe it's a team of destiny. But, it sure didn't show up in the stats--what these guys have inside. It's all about heart and playing as a team. That's exactly how we won."
2004 Season Highlights
- National Champions with wins over Lewis and Long Beach State
- Advanced to the NCAA Final Four for the fourth time in six year
- Peterson became the first coach to win championships at two different schools
- Won 29 matches on the season -- the second most wins in BYU history
- Set a new school record of 21 straight victories
- Recorded the seventh 20-win season in the last 15 years
- First BYU men's volleyball player to be named AVCA Player of the Year -- Carlos Moreno
- Four All-Americans -- Carlos Moreno, first; Fernando Pessoa, first; Victor Batista, second; Joe Hillman, second-- only the second time at BYU that four players earned the honor
- MPSF Player of the Year and MVP of the MPSF Tournament: Carlos Moreno
- Regular-season MPSF Champions with a 20-2 league record
- MPSF Tournament Champions with wins over No. 8 UC Irvine, No. 4 Pepperdine, No. 2 Long Beach State
- Fernando Pessoa was named to the MPSF All-Tournament team and to the NCAA All-Tournament team
- All-MPSF Selections: Carlos Moreno, Fernando Pessoa, Michael Burke
- All-MPSF Honorable Mention: Joe Hillman, Victor Batista, Jonathan Alleman
- Carlos Moreno moved from fifth place to second on BYU's all-time assist board with 4, 628 total career assists
- Fernando Pessoa finished fifth on BYU's single-season kill list with 492
- Beat Long Beach State four times during season
- Shawn Olmstead was named to the MPSF All-Tournament team
- Olmstead finished third on BYU's single-season dig list with 230 on the season