NCAA Title Defense with Mac Wilson

As a tall, skinny boy growing up in Rexburg, Idaho, hearing thousands of people chant his nickname of "Big Mac" seemed an unlikely scenario for BYU junior Mac Wilson.

If you told him that the thousands of people would be chanting that nickname as he was playing collegiate volleyball for a national championship team, he would have found it even more unlikely. Men's volleyball isn't even a varsity sport in southeastern Idaho.

But, add in a growth spurt, a move to Southern California and good coaching and you have yourself one of only two returning starters on the defending national champion BYU roster this season.

Wilson, who now stands 6-9, gets a little embarrassed about the "Big Mac" nickname, although he admits that he likes it.

"I guess you can't really choose what nickname people give you. I like it though. I just wish that I fit the description better," Wilson said, while rubbing his self-described skinny arms.

What are big are the numbers Wilson put up for the Cougars last season in his first year as a starter. Wilson ended the season second on the team in hitting percentage (.450), blocks (164), and blocks per game (1.89). He also ended the season fifth on the team in kills (214).

"I think it was a mistake that he wasn't an All-American," BYU coach Carl McGown said of the Palmdale, Calif., native. "He certainly had All-American stats. I think it was just because not many people had seen him play."

The lack of exposure was due in large part because of his limited play during his freshman season. Wilson played in only one match during his freshman season.

However, when given the chance to play last season, Wilson came up huge. Last February, in the first start of his collegiate career, Wilson had a huge weekend against perennial powerhouse UCLA that saw the Cougars sweep the Bruins 3-0 both nights.

Wilson finished the weekend with 32 kills and 11 blocks. He also had a .636 hitting percentage for the series. The outings were enough to earn him the national player of the week award.

"I thought those two matches were the best ones of my life and I kind of thought I would come back down," Wilson said. "It was a turning point for me because it helped me keep a chance to play, but more importantly, it helped my teammates gain confidence in me."

McGown agrees that the UCLA matches were huge for Wilson and the Cougars.

"It was the first time he had been in the starting lineup and he showed that he wasn't afraid to play and wasn't afraid to work hard," McGown said.

Working hard is something Wilson has always had to do to keep his spot on the team. As a tall, thin redshirt freshman, Wilson could barely benchpress 85 pounds. Now, he benchpresses well over two hundred pounds. Also, after returning from an LDS mission to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the summer of 1997 he was out of shape and always at least a step behind the other players. His timing and quickness are two things he continues to work on today.

"People ask me if I'm a good volleyball player and after I think about how good the guys I play with and play against are I have to respond 'no'," Wilson said. "I'm not where I want to be yet."

Wilson, who played on the same Highland High School team as BYU four-time All- American Ryan Millar who finished his career with the national championship game last year, says playing with Millar for the past few years has made him a better player as well.

"Ryan is just a great guy and he loves the game so much," Wilson said. "When you play on his team and you see him get so excited about playing it makes you get more excited."

The highlight of Big Mac's career so far has been the national championship win over Long Beach State. Not only did the win give BYU its first men's national championship in 15 years, but it also saw the Cougars avenge their only loss of the season, a 3-2 loss to the 49ers.

The Cougars won the title in three straight games in their first-ever appearance at the national tournament making them only the second non-California team to win the tournament in its 30-year history.

"He played really well in the championship game and throughout the tournament," McGown said. "He's going to be big for our team because he's one of the guys that was there when we did it (won the national championship game)."

It was also the first championship for Wilson and Millar. Their high school team lost in the state finals to Royal High School of Simi Valley, Calif.

"This championship is huge," Wilson said. "In order to really appreciate what we were able to do you have to look at the time the coaches have put in and the guys that have played here that built the foundation."

During the team's celebration Wilson and Millar remembered the disappointment of losing the state championship game.

"I turned to Ryan and we both just said 'this is for Royal,'" Wilson said. "It was great to win one."

Wilson looks to improve his performance this season as he looks to lead the Cougars to another national championship, although he admits it won't be easy. He said that it will be an adjustment for him to go from being someone who could surprise teams that had focused on Millar and Ossie Antonetti, the Cougars other first-team All-American, to being a main focus for opponents.

However, Wilson is also quick to point out that there are plenty of other players that were on the team last year that would have played on other teams in the country and that he won't be alone in the defense of the title.

According to McGown, some coaches, including U.S. National Team coach Doug Beal, believe Wilson could be better than Millar as he gains experience.

"He is definitely the most improved player on our team, if not the country," McGown said. "He is a bright student and a bright athlete. He works hard, he works really hard."

McGown and the Cougars hope that Wilson will take the experience he gained from working out with the U.S. World University Games Team last summer in San Diego, Calif., and improve even more.

As Wilson improves, so will BYU, and the shouts of "Big Mac" will only get louder. Wilson broke his hand and is expected to be out several weeks. The home season began last week for BYU's men's volleyball team. The Cougars return for a road trip next week to host a pair of matches the end of this month against Cal-Northridge.