(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Despite a young roster, the 2009 BYU men’s volleyball team (17-13, 13-9 MPSF) finished the season with a No. 7 national ranking after seeing its share of upsets over several of the top teams in the country. The Cougars posted an 8-4 record against six top-10 teams to conclude the regular season, earning their 13th consecutive trip to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs.
“We were very successful after losing six players off last year's team,” said BYU head coach Shawn Patchell. “I'm really proud of all my guys and how they performed, especially the last 12 or 13 matches. We didn't have much experience and had three freshmen starting at various times. We weren't expected to even go to the playoffs, so we had fun.”
Leading the Cougars were All-MPSF Second Team selections Andrew Stewart and Futi Tavana, along with Yamil Perez who received honorable mention.
As a co-team captain, along with setter Reed Chilton, Stewart was a mainstay at outside hitter for BYU. As a junior he led the team with 408 kills on the season, averaging 3.64 per set. Stewart recorded double-digit kills 22 times throughout the year, including 13 consecutive matches. His 854 kill attempts in 2009 sits fourth on BYU’s rally scoring record list.
A redshirt freshman middle blocker, Tavana played in and started all 30 matches following his return home from an LDS mission to Riverside, Calif. and was named Walk-On of the Year at BYU’s 2009 Y Awards. His average of 1.47 blocks per set led the MPSF and ranked third nationally. A native of Kalaheo, Hawai’i, he led the Cougars with 169 blocks, second-most in BYU rally scoring history.
Stewart and Tavana weren’t the only Cougars to rewrite the record books in 2009. Freshman middle Russell Lavaja racked up 123 block-assists on the season, placing him seventh on the rally scoring record list. Libero Joel Silva's 249 digs tied a program record he set in 2008.
As a team, the Cougars’ five five-set match wins are second-most in program history, while their 404.5 total blocks top the BYU record list, 23 more than the previous record set in 2001. On the season BYU ranked third in the country, averaging 3.43 blocks per set.
BYU’s winning tradition at the Smith Fieldhouse—the site of the 2009 NCAA National Championship—continued with the Cougars earning a 9-3 home record. BYU’s teams have lost only five home matches in the past three years.
With no seniors and the addition of seven newcomers in 2009, the team had its work cut for it early after suffering back-to-back losses to No. 8 Stanford and No. 6 UC Irvine at the UC Santa Barbara Elephant Bar Invitational to open the season. After dropping a tough 3-2 home match to Cal Baptist on Jan. 15, the Cougars found themselves with an early 1-3 record.
Three wins at home over two 11th-ranked teams, Lewis and Hawai’i, gave BYU a record above .500 as it traveled to No. 10 UC Santa Barbara and No. 5 USC for a two-week road trip. The Cougars split match wins with the Gauchos before the Trojans handed them two losses on Feb. 6-7.
Consecutive wins over No. 10 UC San Diego at home on Feb. 20-21 gave BYU the necessary momentum to sweep a two-match series at Pacific the following weekend.
March started with a road trip to No. 1 Cal State Northridge. The Matadors snapped BYU’s four-match win streak with back-to-back sweeps. The Cougars had little time to dwell on the losses as they prepared to face the reigning national champion, Penn State, at the Long Beach State Active Ankle Tournament on March 13.
Stewart led the Cougars to a 3-2 win over the No. 4 Nittany Lions with a match-high 20 kills. While Penn State totaled five players with double-digit kills that night, compared to BYU’s two, the Cougars pulled out a crucial win that would change the team’s perspective on the remainder of the season.
“I was proud of my guys in that match,” said Patchell. “We just fought hard and competed and won. That's really what started us on finishing the season well."
After a 3-0 sweep over IPFW the following night, the Cougars returned home for a three-week home stand, hosting No. 5 Long Beach State, No. 10 UCLA and No. 1 UC Irvine.
Tavana led the Cougars to a pair of five-set wins over the 49ers on March 20-21 with a pair of his own double-doubles, the first of his young career. His 13 blocks on March 21 tied a BYU rally scoring record. Garnering both national and MPSF Player of the Week honors following his performances, Tavana and the Cougars split a pair of contests with UCLA the next week.
Hoping to clinch an MPSF playoff spot, then-No. 6 BYU hosted top-ranked UC Irvine on April 2-3, a team that went on to win the 2009 National Championship in Provo. The Anteaters’ visit marked the first No. 1 team to come to the Smith Fieldhouse since the Cougars hosted No. 1 Pepperdine in 2006. BYU made the most of its opportunity for an upset, snapping UCI’s seven-match win streak in a four-set thriller. Kent Tuttle recorded 10 kills on the night with a .350 hitting percentage, despite suffering a head injury requiring ten staples after he dove for a ball near the bleachers.
While BYU played its final home match of the season in front of a season-high 3,878 fans, the Anteaters came away with their own 3-1 win, resulting in a series split for the two teams. The crowd of 3,878 not only marked the largest to visit the Fieldhouse in 2009, but the largest since Feb. 3, 2007 when 5,603 came to watch No. 1 BYU fall to No. 2 UCI.
BYU hit the road for the final two weeks of the regular season, splitting series at both No. 5 Stanford and No. 2 Pepperdine. Stewart was named MPSF Player of the Week, a career first, after contributing 18 kills both nights against the Waves.
“I'm really proud of how we fought — especially on the road,” said Patchell. “We won some tough matches on the road against some opponents ranked ahead of us."
Tied for fifth in the final conference standings, the sixth-seeded Cougars faced third-seed CSUN in the opening round of the MPSF playoffs. The Matadors were the only team to defeat and sweep both matches against BYU during the regular season.
The Cougars hoped to pull out a win over CSUN after having secured series splits against the nation’s first-, second- and fifth-ranked teams in each of the three weeks leading up to the first round, however, BYU fell short of a comeback after losing the first two sets, eventually falling 3-1.
Despite the early exit, Patchell and his team recognize the growth and experience gained throughout the season.
"We got a ton of experience this season with a lot of different guys," said Patchell. "It'll be fun to be on the court in the fall to see them compete for those starting positions. I like our chances next year."
With all their players returning next season, along with talented return missionaries and recruits, the Cougars are poised for another successful season in 2010.