No nonsense, no frills, no lies. BYU men's volleyball senior Mike Wall might not be the tallest, hardest hitting or have eye-popping statistics, but he does know how to win.
On the court he is intense, driven and doesn't pull any punches. Off the court his demeanor is that of a laid-back and fun-loving Californian. Above anything in volleyball, though, the 6-4, 205-pound senior from Santa Barbara, Calif., wants to win, and the results offer a telling tale.
A devastating opposite-side hitter, Wall is an All-American, the 2001 NCAA Final Four MVP and emotional core of the defending NCAA men's volleyball champions. Dating back through high school, spanning his eight year volleyball career, Wall's team has made it to the championship match six times.
"As far as I'm concerned I'm not an MVP, I'm not a national champion," Wall said. "Being named an All-American was a goal of mine, but this is a new year, and I'm none of those things now."
Wall is a bona fide volleyball superstar at the collegiate level, but his road to stardom has hit its share of bumpy terrain.
While at Santa Ynez High School in Santa Barbara, Calif., Wall lettered in four sports: volleyball, basketball, football and soccer. He considered soccer his number one sport, but Wall knew his future was in volleyball, so in his junior year he backed off the other sports to concentrate on volleyball.
"Part of the reason is I felt I could get a college volleyball scholarship," Wall said. "And volleyball was always more laid back and less tense than some of the other sports."
As a senior Wall was named Santa Ynez High School player of the year, and he was picked as the California Interscholastic Federation player of the year.
Wall, born and raised in southern California, always wanted to stay instate to play volleyball. A surging volleyball team at BYU and its coach Carl McGown, however, came knocking and had its eyes on Wall.
McGown first met Wall at a volleyball camp in Mesa, Ariz., and was immediately impressed.
"He was a very talented athlete, and it showed," McGown recollects. "He could really jump high, but his arm swing lacked strength, and so he wasn't too strong of a hitter."
Although Wall was recognized as being highly talented, he knew his limitations.
"I just relied on raw talent, just pure athleticism in high school," Wall said. "I had no technique whatsoever."
The Cougars quickly invited Wall for his first recruiting visit. Instead of taking his time and shopping himself to other schools, Wall, smitten by BYU on his first visit, made an impetuous decision to commit to BYU.
"I never, ever thought of coming to BYU," Wall said matter-of-factly. "But my goal was to play (NCAA) Division I volleyball. I just rushed my decision."
Wall arrived to BYU and found the adjustment almost unbearable. Change is hard to deal with, and being out of his comfort zone was difficult, Wall said.
He spent his first year at BYU as a redshirt, and for a player that was used to playing and winning, not being able to play was excruciating.
"That first year, a few of the redshirts practiced on another court, on the other side of the curtain, and we would play dodge ball and have dunk contests," Wall said. "I really didn't feel a part of things if I wasn't playing. So I never went to a single game that season either."
It didn't help that Wall's relationship with McGown was almost non-existent. He was also lived on the seventh floor of Deseret Towers, surrounded by members of the BYU marching band, but only for a short time.
Things looked so down for Wall that he seriously contemplated transferring away from BYU.
"I was ready to transfer," Wall said. "I really didn't like Provo in my freshman year. It ended up being too much of a hassle to go through something like that, so I stayed. In the end volleyball kept me sane-volleyball kept me here."
In 1999, Wall's first year of action, BYU won its first NCAA men's volleyball championship. Although he was a back up to senior All-American Ossie Antonetti, Wall saw action in 13 matches compiling a respectable 76 kills on 146 attempts (.301), 29 digs and 15 blocks.
"My goal that year was just to be able to travel with the team," Wall said. "I was practicing behind Ossie, and I practiced really well that year. The second team beat the first team a lot in practice, and I think it was a big reason why the team won the national championship."
Although a reserve with limited match experience, Wall considered 1999 as the biggest improvement year of his volleyball career.
"It was so intense," Wall said. "We'd often get into fights in practice. But it was because we were all so competitive, and we all fed off of that energy."
The Cougars entered a transition year in 2000, before breaking out again and taking the 2001 national title.
"Our team last year was ridiculously talented," Wall said. "I don't think we felt any pressure at all. I think our own expectations surpassed any sort of pressure. There was a time last year when I thought we wouldn't win the national championship."
But as an at-large entry to the Final Four it came together against UCLA in the national championship game. Wall added kills, spikes and dumps to team with Scott Bunker, Hector Lebron, Jaime Mayol, Matt Olsen and Luke Slabe to garner the title.
Wall is talented, but he is neither the most imposing player on the court, nor one to put up gaudy statistics, rather he is a model of consistency. Personal accolades don't interest Wall very much. He cares about winning right now, not how the team has fared in the past.
"I've been around, I know how to compete and I know how to win," Wall said. "My desire is to work hard and compete because I hate to lose."
This year, with fellow senior Joaquin Acosta, Wall is determined to lead the Cougars to another championship.
After dropping its season opener against Stanford on Jan. 11, BYU came out determined to defeat the Cardinal the next night.
Wall prodded his teammates on the court by continually shouting, "who wants it more?"
"We wanted it more," Wall said. "On the court, the way I play volleyball is with emotion."
Since defeating Stanford on Jan. 12, BYU has won seven consecutive matches, through Feb. 2, and was ranked No. 5 nationally with a 7-1 record. Despite the loss of three All-Americans from last year's team, the Cougar are jelling quickly and showing a great deal of early season promise.
"We have a very realistic chance of repeating," Wall said. "Things are slowly falling into place."
So far Wall is averaging a team-high 5.2 kills a game with 156 kills on 301 swings (.359) to go along with a team-high 1.67 digs per game.
Coming from a diverse environment in southern California, Wall has thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of the men's volleyball team. The Cougar roster is composed of players from places such as Puerto Rico, Brazil and Slovenia.
"I love the team," Wall said. "It's awesome to have such diversity; they do nothing but positive things for the team. I've gotten along with everybody on my team pretty well, I don't think I have any enemies."
As for life after BYU volleyball, Wall hopes to one day go to dental school, but not before he plays professionally for a year or two.
The Cougars have taken two of the last three NCAA men's volleyball titles, and with success has come a greater deal of understanding.
"Carl was intimidating," Wall said. "It took me three years to build a relationship with Carl. But I've grown to really respect him. I value his opinion and his advice. I would talk to him about anything."
"When he first got here, he wasn't a very good student, and he was struggling within himself," McGown said. "But he's grown to be a leader, a good student and a good guy."
Wall lives by an adage shared with him by his father, and he shares it with whoever will listen.
"Tenacity will always pay off sometime," Wall said.
Wall exemplifies tenacity. When he could have given up, he persevered, knowing the possible rewards to be great. In Wall's words it's important that the team retains the "contagious fervor" of previous Cougar teams.
"I came here and I'm glad I did," Wall said.