(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Brian Rowley took the road less traveled on his way to becoming a starter and team captain on the BYU men's volleyball team.
Rowley, now a senior, came to school in the fall of 1999 and tried out for Carl McGown's defending national champion BYU Cougars. He made it through several stages of the tryout and thought he had earned his way onto the team for the 2000 season. The coaches even thought they had a spot for him. But after the final count, they decided they had too many players and Rowley was told he had to go.
Upon completing his freshman year, Rowley did what he had planned all along; serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was called to Salta, Argentina. Following his mission, Rowley had different plans than those coming out of high school.
"I thought I was done (with volleyball)," Rowley said. "I came back after two years and having been cut once already from the team was a deterrent. Then my physical condition after serving a mission wasn't very good and I didn't think I had a chance."
Though he had decided not to tryout, he couldn't stay away. Rowley watched the Cougars reach the NCAA title match in 2003.
"That year I went to all the matches," Rowley said. "It was hard to watch and think that maybe I'd have a chance to play. So summer came around and I started playing again."
That summer he played sand volleyball with several members of the team, including starting setter Rob Neilson, who was a backup setter at the time. Neilson thought Rowley had the potential of being BYU's future libero. Thanks to little prodding and Rowley having already caught the volleyball bug again, he decided to give it another shot.
"Sometime during that summer Rob Neilson gave me a call and talked about the libero position and how Fernando Pessoa and Shawn Olmstead were both going to be seniors (in 2004)," Rowley said. "He thought I could be the next libero. Basically, after playing the whole summer and talking to Rob a little, I started playing and things just worked out."
After a week of shaking off the rust, Rowley started to impress the coaching staff, which included current head coach Tom Peterson, who liked what he saw.
"When he came out I had a recommendation from guys who knew him from high school and some free play in our gym," Peterson said. "As a libero you have to be hard working and you could just tell by his personality he would be great for us. He was also talented so it was an easy decision."
During the 2004 season, Rowley saw limited action but gained valuable experience practicing everyday against a team that won 29 matches and the NCAA Championship. That experience prepared him for the starting role he earned in 2005.
"Because of the tradition here, I always wanted to play for BYU," Rowley said. "To actually get to that point was unbelievable. To step out on to the court the first time as a starter and to be introduced in the starting lineup in the Fieldhouse in front of 5,000 people was unreal. To step out and to feel comfortable playing and not be nervous about it but to know that you'd worked hard enough to be in that spot was the best thing ever."
Rowley finished the 2005 season as the team leader in digs and emerged as a team leader on and off the court. For the year, he averaged 1.89 digs per game and less than one serve return error per match.
"He is one of our leaders, if not the guy that everybody looks up to," Peterson said. "He is more important than just his position on the court. I believe volleyball is the consummate team sport so he is important to us as a captain on and off the court as well for his passing and ability to dig volleyballs."
Now Rowley is the team captain and starting libero for the No. 1 ranked team in the country. With the season half over, he expects the Cougars to continue winning and make a run for the national title.
"We thought we were good and had talent last year but we are more experienced and even better now," he said. "If we can keep our confidence up and play well, we should compete for the conference and national titles."
Not only did making the BYU volleyball team give Rowley the chance to display his athletic abilities; it also introduced him to his wife. During the 2004 season, Delana Earl was a scorekeeper for the team during practice.
"About the same time that I made the team, she was working as a statistician," he said. "The first time I ever talked to her, I asked her how my passing stats were and she was pretty critical. Her confidence and bluntness kind of got me interested. After a few more weeks I asked her out and we started going out. It was about a month or so of dating before people started to notice what was going on. From there we dated for a while and then got married."
The Rowley's welcomed an addition to their family in August 2005 when their baby daughter Madelyn was born. After taking the 2005 season off, Delana is back, keeping stats during practice and games. With the support of his young family, Rowley hopes to help add a couple of trophies to BYU's collection this spring.
"It's the best ever," he said. "Just to watch a new baby and to know that she depends on you puts things in perspective and makes life worth it. It makes all the work and everything else you do meaningful."
Not only does Rowley enjoy being a father, but he also plans to pass his volleyball knowledge onto Madelyn.
"She's going to be a good little libero."