(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
A year ago the BYU men’s volleyball team was described as young and inexperienced with a roster that featured 10 newcomers and freshmen. Twelve months later the description couldn’t be more different. Since finishing the 2009 season with a 17-13 record and No. 7 national ranking, the Cougars return all their starters, including six seniors.
Leading the Cougars is fourth-year head coach Shawn Patchell. Patchell, who spent the summer coaching the USA Junior National Team, is hopeful his matured team will improve on the marks set last season, while reaching higher goals in 2010.
The preseason went well for the Cougars, as they posted wins over Long Beach State, Grand Canyon, Long Beach City College, Arizona and Utah Valley. The team’s only losses came against the BYU alumni team which boasts several All-Americans and members of past national championship teams.
Patchell released the 2010 schedule earlier in the year. It includes matchups against some of the premier programs in the country, including all but one of the teams that finished the 2009 season ranked in the nation’s top 10.
As members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the Cougars’ conference schedule increases in difficulty year after year. Since BYU began playing NCAA volleyball in 1990, an MPSF team has won the national title every year except 1994, 2003 and 2008. The most recent team to claim the honor was UC Irvine in 2009 when BYU hosted the national championships in the Smith Fieldhouse. The Cougars visit the Anteaters on Feb. 4 and 5.
BYU will also pay visits to UCLA, UC San Diego, Hawaii and Long Beach State, while hosting Pacific, Stanford, Pepperdine, USC, UC Santa Barbara, Cal Baptist and Cal State Northridge. The Cougars open the season at the UC Santa Barbara Elephant Bar Tournament on Jan. 8-9. This will mark the second consecutive year the Cougars open their season at the tournament.
Returning at outside hitter is one of the Cougars' experienced seniors—three-year starter and All-MPSF Second Team selection Andrew Stewart. 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.
Joining Stewart is team captain Alex Da Pron, who started 13 matches for BYU in 2009 after transferring from UC Irvine. Add in a pair of juniors--Jeff Robinson and Kevin Sagers--and the Cougars will only see growth at the position.
Seniors Mat Taylor and Kent Tuttle are back at opposite this season after splitting playing time in 2009. Both recorded over 200 kills last year, leading the team in that category a combined 14 times.
Recently returned missionary Robb Stowell will also compete at the position after missing the past two seasons. Starting 26 matches as a freshman in 2007, Stowell recorded double-digit kills in 22 matches as he went on to earn All-MPSF Honorable Mention.
Second-team All-MPSF selection Futi Tavana is back at middle blocker after a stellar freshman season in 2009. He played in and started all 30 matches and was named Walk-On of the Year at BYU’s annual 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.
After spending the summer with the USA Junior National Team, Russell Lavaja returns for his sophomore season. He racked up 123 block-assists in 2009, placing him seventh on the rally-scoring record list.
Also in the middle this year is returned missionary Erik Mayer and sophomore Quentin Smith.
The setter position is stacked with two experienced seniors, Reed Chilton and Yamil Perez. Both have seen substantial playing time over the past few years, with Perez earning All-MPSF Honorable Mention recognition last season after leading the team with 1,223 assists. Chilton played in 29 of the Cougars’ 30 matches in 2009 and was named to the all-tournament team at the conclusion of the BYU Tournament this past preseason.
Returned missionary Ryan Boyce also adds depth at setter.
Once again Patchell doesn’t need to worry about his libero's performance with the return of Olympian Joel Silva. A native of Venezuela, Silva has provided consistent play for the Cougars since his freshman season back in 2007. He has recorded 200-plus digs each of the past three years, setting a new BYU rally-scoring record with 249 in 2008 and 2009.
Also returning at libero is junior BJ Hiapo, who earned significant playing time during the preseason.