First year co-interim head coaches Ryan Millar (left) and Shawn Patchell expect big things from the 2007 BYU team.
PROVO -- Expectations are high for BYU men's volleyball as a pair of new coaches help prepare a talented and experienced Cougar squad for the 2007 campaign.
New this season at BYU are co-interim head coaches Shawn Patchell and Ryan Millar. Patchell is in his fifth season coaching the Cougars while Millar joins BYU's staff for his first year. Both Patchell and Millar starred for past BYU teams and earned their respective degrees from BYU. The two coaches have been part of championship teams at BYU. Millar played for the 1999 squad that had an amazing 30-1 record en route to the schools first national championship. Patchell was on the coaching staff in 2004 when BYU won its third national championship. Both, collectively, hope to lead the 2007 BYU team to a fourth national championship.
Patchell and Millar agree that this year's coaching dynamic is original and beneficial to both.
"We are trying to do the best we can," Millar said. "We are two different coaches with different styles that compliment each other. We are two head coaches. We don't divide responsibilities."
"We are making it [the coaching situation] work," Patchell added. "When we see something that needs to be addressed at any level in the program, we take initiative and take care of it."
"Ultimately, our goal every year is to win a national championship," Millar said. "We have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round of the conference tournament the last two years. The guys are hungry. However, we know we have to take it one match at a time."
BYU returns plenty of offensive talent and expects to have one of the deepest talent pools in the nation.
"We have a lot of guys with strong arms," Patchell said. "Our guys know how to put the ball away."
Millar and Patchell agree that BYU has two of the best outside hitters in the country in Yosleyder Cala and Ivan Perez. Both return with experience and all-conference citations from last season. After arriving midway through the season, Cala quickly made an immediate impact. He played in 19 matches and was second on the team in total kills (269) while leading the team with 4.01 kills per game. Cala hit .359, the best among BYU outside hitters.
Cala had one of the best matches by any player in the nation during the 2006 season on Friday, March 10, against UC Irvine. For the match, he had 32 kills, a BYU team-season high and a career high for the freshman outside hitter. He also had a career-best 14 digs and added five blocks and two aces. Cala hit .444 for the match.
"We have three guys in Cala, Perez and Andrew Stewart that are potential all-americans," Millar said.
Perez led BYU in kills last season with 326, averaging 3.66 kills per game while hitting at a .278 clip. Perez was an All-MPSF Honorable Mention winner and also won the BYU Crowd Pleaser award at the BYU Cougar Club's annual Y Awards.
As a freshman, Perez was named a second team AVCA and Asics/Volleyball Magazine All-American. It was the highest honor won by a freshman at BYU. Perez set a team record for most kills by a freshman with 382 while finishing first on the team with an average of 3.78 kills per game. Perez was a redshirt when BYU won the NCAA title in 2004.
Freshman Andrew Stewart has been impressive in preseason play. He played well at the Canada-American Challenge to catch the coaches' attention.
"They aren't just big arms," Patchell said of BYU's outside hitters. "They are able to pass well, they exhibit a lot of ball control for their athletic ability."
Jonathan Charette, who started for the Cougars on the right side last year, will redshirt for BYU this season. Charette, a senior from Fullerton, Calif., will be nursing injuries and concentrating on school while giving way to two opposites who may not be on the roster next year.
Bryan Stewart will likely start for BYU at opposite with true freshman Robby Stowell competing for time. Stewart is coming off an injury and Patchell said he is hungry to play. Millar said Stowell already has all the physical tools to be great. Stowell played for the USA Junior National team over the summer.
By redshirting Charette, a proven starter, the Cougars will have senior experience at opposite for two consecutive years. Patchell and Millar note that in addition to helping him get healthy, the move to redshirt Charette was strategic, as they would like experience on the right side for two years. Stewart will graduate at the end of this season while Stowell plans to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the season.
Perhaps the deepest and most experienced position for BYU this season will be middle blocker. The Cougars return two veterans in the middle including all-american and this year's team captain, Russell Holmes. Also returning is senior Trent Sorensen. Rodnei Santos, a redshirt freshman, also could see some playing time after moving to the middle from the right side.
Holmes was second team AVCA and Asics/Volleyball Magazine All-American and second team All-MPSF. Holmes was third on the team in kills with 250 while leading the Cougars with a .456 hitting percentage. Holmes was one of only two BYU players that started all 27 matches for the Cougars. He also led the Cougars with 155 total blocks on the season.
"Russell is, in my opinion, the best middle in the nation," Millar said. "He has the total package and is our team captain and leader on the court."
Sorensen played in all 27 matches for the Cougars last season. Sorensen played very well in exhibition play this year, including an 11-kill match against Pepperdine. Sorensen hit .667 in the match.
"Both Russell and Trent have excellent serves and a lot of experience," Patchell said.
The most wide-open position on the BYU team is setter. The Cougars lose All-MPSF Honorable Mention performer and two-year starter and three-year contributor Rob Neilson.
BYU has four setter options to choose from. Brian Congelliere, who was Neilson's primary backup last season, has been hampered by injury and his status is not known. The battle for playing time has been primarily between freshmen Reed Chilton, Chip Neff and Yamil Perez.
Millar said all three options bring something positive to the table. Chilton spreads the ball well and involves everyone in the offense, making the Cougars difficult to defend.
"Reed has an excellent work ethic and a great attitude about the position battle," Millar said. "He's very smart and has good awareness. We let him run the show when he is out there."
Chilton started in the final two exhibition matches against Pepperdine and led the Cougars to victories in both matches.
Patchell said Neff and Perez bring confidence to the court.
"Both Chip and Yamil have excellent serves," Patchell said. "They are confident and they work hard.
Neff started BYU's first exhibition matches in Canada before colliding with Bryan Stewart and suffering a mild concussion. The coaches said all three setters could see significant playing time this season.
Redshirt freshman Andy Pompei will be called upon to replace two-year starter Brian Rowley who graduated last year. Pompei has impressed the coaches early on with his passing in BYU's new offensive set.
"Andy is very quick and has passed the ball well in fall," Patchell said. "If he continues to improve defensively then he'll be a good Libero."
The Cougars have also brought in Brazilian Leandro Justen who is currently on academic scholarship. Justen will back up Pompei.
BYU's schedule features the two teams that played for the National Championship in 2006 in National Champion UCLA and National runner-up Penn State. The Cougars first home MPSF matches will be against UCLA the first week of school. In all, the Cougars have 10 home matches this season.
"The bad news is we only have 10 home matches this year," Millar said. "The good news is that the four conference teams we play at home were four of the top teams from the conference last year."
BYU has the same MPSF teams at home this year as it has had for two of its three National Championships (1999 and 2001).
The Cougars will play Penn State in Hawaii at the Outrigger Tournament. BYU's other non-conference opponents are Cal-Baptist, which the Cougars play for the third consecutive year and Loyola-Chicago. BYU plays Cal-Baptist in a pair of matches to open the season at home before playing the Lancers in a single match on the road on Feb. 13. The Cougars take on Loyola-Chicago at the Outrigger Tournament.
"We have several goals this season," Patchell said. "First, our goal is to win every home match. We will get an early indication about how good we are when we play UCLA early in the season. Second, we want to win the MPSF. Third, we want to win the Final Four."