As the BYU men's volleyball team leaves the legendary Carl McGown era that brought it two national championships in the last four years and transitions into a new era with head coach Tom Peterson, the Cougars are still set for success.
"Carl and his staff really built up a great program, the pressure's on to keep it great," Peterson said. "It's a privilege for me to be here, to be with one of the finest programs in the country right now. Certainly I want to put forth the effort to keep it one of the best programs in the country. It's not all up to me; it's definitely a whole team effort."
And the team is looking good going into the 2003 season. Even with the loss of All-Americans Mike Wall (OPP) and Joaquin Acosta (OH), the biggest strength for the Cougars this year will be their depth. Peterson looks forward to working with a team with good chemistry and a gym full of players that are all good enough to be starters this year.
"You can see from the stats that Acosta and Wall dominated last year," Peterson said. "But this year, if we are playing well, you will be able to look at the stat sheet and see the stats fairly evenly distributed among the players."
The following position-by-position look at the 2003 Cougars shows the potential for this year's team:
Three very talented and experienced seniors are vying for the two spots at OH this year: Rafael Paal, Luka Slabe and Jaime Mayol.
Paal, an All-MPSF selection in his first season as a Cougar last year, led the team in hitting percentage at .418 on the season and was the only player besides All-American Mike Wall to play in all 109 games during the season. The Brazilian also led the team last year with 39 service aces and 185 digs on the season. Paal has recorded excellent numbers in the preseason matches this year and will be a big contributor for the team.
Slabe, a member of the 2001 national championship team, was also a large contributor on the team last year, recording double-digit kills in ten matches during the season and ranking third on the BYU roster with 19 service aces. The Slovenia native has a powerful arm and will play a key part for the team at outside hitter this year.
Mayol, also a member of the 2001 national championship team, is a candidate to play either outside hitter or opposite this season. According to coach Peterson, "he's a guy that can fly. He's got a 44 inch jump and can block well, so that makes him a good candidate for either position." Mayol, from Puerto Rico, played in a back-up role last year, competing in 79 games and recording 145 kills on the season, but should be a team leader this year.
"It's hard to say who the starters will be, because we are so deep," Peterson said. "We have three seniors who are all outside hitters, and we can only have two on the court. They are all good players, so it might end up that two of the guys share a little bit of playing time."
Outside hitter is perhaps the deepest position for the Cougars in 2003. Junior newcomer Joe Hillman, Mayol, junior Jonathan Alleman and sophomore Casey Patterson will all be competing for time on the court this season.
Hillman, a transfer from Utah Valley State College, served as team co-captain and was named MVP of the NIRSA Nationals, as well as earning first-team NCCA All-American honors two years in a row. Peterson sees a lot of potential in Hillman and looks forward to him being a key player on the team.
Alleman and Patterson have both seen some playing time with the Cougars and have had good preseason matches. According to Peterson, all four of the opposite side hitters at BYU have enough talent to be starters on any team in the league.
2002 All-MPSF selection Chris Gorny returns as a middle blocker this year, joined by Mike Burke, junior newcomer Dave Hyte and sophomore Tim Layton.
Gorny was a starter last year as a sophomore and led BYU with 147 blocks on the season, averaging 1.36 blocks per game. He has been injured off and on during the preseason, but should start the season in good form and perform well for the Cougars.
Burke, a redshirt sophomore from Salt Lake City, is a strong athlete who has shown immense improvement. At 6-8, he's got a lot of height to work with and will be strong in the middle this season.
Brazilian Carlos Moreno performed well as the starting setter for the Cougars last season, and this year he's even better than he was last year. As a freshman, Moreno saw action in 97 of 109 games in 2002 and finished the season as the second-best setter in the nation, averaging 14.14 assists per game. He's on a quest to be the best in 2003, and will be a leader on the court for the Cougars. Freshman Rob Neilson, another new player with a lot of promise, will play backup to Moreno at setter.
Junior Fernando Pessoa returns as BYU's libero, and with two years of solid experience behind him is expected to do well in 2003. Junior Shawn Olmstead is giving Pessoa "a run for his money," however, and the two may have to battle for playing time.
"I think for the most part, anyone on the roster gets to compete all season long to move up and play in those starting positions," Peterson said.
With so much depth at every position, Peterson faces the problem of deciding who to play and when. During the preseason the team has worked with three different lineups, and the coaches are still deciding which will work the best for them.
"Because we have so many guys, it's hard to get in a groove with one system, one way," Peterson said. "We don't want to have too many guys doing too many things that they don't get great at certain things."
The depth at each position, however, is the team's greatest strength and will prove to be beneficial on long road trips and when the team plays a lot of matches in a short period of time. The Cougars begin the regular season on the road, playing two matches each against top-ranked Stanford and the University of the Pacific in just five days. The team will count on all of its players to be able to have a good start to the season.
"The team chemistry will make or break us," Peterson said. "We have to rely on each other as a team this year. We can't just have one or two people carry it."
The Cougars face a tough schedule in a tough conference, with matches lined up with UCLA, UC San Diego, Hawaii, Penn State, UC Irvine and Long Beach State at home. In addition to facing Stanford and University of the Pacific on the road, BYU will visit UC Santa Barbara, USC, Cal State Northridge and Pepperdine.
"We have a good team. We have a chance of finishing high in the conference this season," Peterson said. "The conference competition is brutal, but if we put it all together at the right time, we have as good a chance as anybody."