2020 Season Review
The BYU men’s volleyball team was a national title contender putting together one of the best seasons in program history before the 2020 season came to a sudden halt due to the spread of COVID-19. While the pandemic extinguished the magical season with only six regular-season matches remaining, the Cougars went out on top of the national poll and collected some of the most prestigious awards in the country.
“We believed that we were the best team in the country, and it had the makings of a pretty spectacular season,” head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We can take pride and joy that we finished No. 1 in the last poll. There were so many good teams out there and there was still a lot of season left to play, but I had all the confidence in the world in my boys going down the stretch.”
BYU had just been named the No. 1 team in the nation in what became the final AVCA Coaches Poll when the remainder of the season was canceled three days later. The Cougars won their first 17 matches of the season, the second-best start in program history, to finish 17-1 overall. BYU ended the year 12-1 against ranked opponents and played the toughest schedule in the NCAA with a .678 cumulative opponent winning percentage.
Opposite hitter Gabi Garcia Fernandez became the third player in program history to be crowned the AVCA Player of the Year after leading the NCAA with averages of 5.46 points per set and .918 aces per set. Despite the shortened season, the junior ended the year with 56 aces to break the BYU single-season aces record.
The Cougars had four players receive AVCA All-America recognition, including three first-team All-Americans, for the first time since 2001. Garcia Fernandez, sophomore opposite hitter Davide Gardini and senior setter Wil Stanley were named to the All-America First Team while senior outside hitter Zach Eschenberg collected All-America honorable mention.
The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation named Olmstead the MPSF Coach of the Year and Garcia Fernandez the MPSF Player of the Year after BYU’s dominant season, including a 6-0 conference record. Garcia Fernandez, Gardini, Wil Stanley and junior middle blocker Felipe de Brito Ferreira received All-MPSF First Team honors. Eschenberg was named to the All-MPSF Second Team while senior middle blocker Miki Jauhiainen collected All-MPSF honorable mention.
The Cougars topped the nation with a .944 winning percentage while also leading the NCAA with 2.95 blocks per set. They led the MPSF and were among the top teams in the country in hitting (.358), opponent hitting (.231), kills per set (12.97), and assists per set (12.14).
BYU began the 2020 season ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll after returning nearly its whole team from the previous year. The Cougars opened with a pair of tough road tests against No. 11 Loyola Chicago and No. 5 Lewis on back-to-back nights. Garcia Fernandez and Gardini led BYU to a four-set victory over the Ramblers on the first night with 22 kills and 21 kills, respectively.
Garcia Fernandez tallied seven aces the following night against the Flyers, including scoring four-straight points from the service line to help the Cougars comeback and win set two. Lewis managed to take the third set before BYU comfortably won the fourth game to claim the 3-1 victory.
The Cougars hosted No. 15 Penn State for a pair of matches that included BYU’s home opener. Participating in his first collegiate match and playing with his brother Wil, freshman serving specialist Jon Stanley recorded his first career ace late in the third set to help the Cougars complete the sweep over the Nittany Lions in the home opener. Gardini put together an errorless performance with 13 kills on 16 attempts to finish with a .750 hitting percentage, the 10th-highest hitting percentage by a BYU player in the rally era (min. 10 kills). The following night, the Cougars capitalized on 37 Penn State errors to defeat the Nittany Lions in straight sets to secure the series sweep.
After four-straight wins over ranked opponents to start the season, BYU moved up one spot to No. 2 in the rankings before heading to North Carolina to face Mount Olive for the first time in program history. Garcia Fernandez continued his dominance from the service line and recorded a career-high eight aces in a sweep over the Trojans the first night. The eight aces tied for the second-most aces recorded by a BYU player in a single match and marked only the third time in the rally era that a Cougar had eight or more aces in one match. BYU held off Mount Olive from taking a set the next afternoon to complete its second-consecutive series sweep.
Wil Stanley had back-to-back double-doubles to lead the Cougars to consecutive road victories over No. 5 UC Irvine. The setter had 48 assists and a career-high 13 digs while helping Garcia Fernandez finish with 19 kills on a .517 clip in a four-set victory over the Anteaters in the first match.
With three sets going to extras, BYU fended off a relentless UC Irvine squad in the second match of the series to escape with a 3-1 win and remain undefeated. Four BYU players recorded double-digit kills for the first time since 2012 and three Cougars had double-doubles. Garcia Fernandez led the way with 22 kills and 11 digs followed by Gardini’s 16 kills and 12 digs. Eschenberg finished with a career-high 14 kills and de Brito Ferreira had 10 kills. Wil Stanley recorded a career-high 57 assists facilitating the balanced attack while totaling 12 digs and a career-high five blocks.
After defeating No. 3 UC Santa Barbara in four sets in the first matchup, BYU was pushed to the brink in the second match against the Gauchos. Trailing 2-1 in a match for the first and only time all season, Garcia Fernandez forced set five with a set-winning ace in extras to win the fourth game 28-26. After Eschenberg fueled an 11-4 run with a pair of kills and a block, Garcia Fernandez fended off UCSB with a match-winning ace to clinch the comeback for the Cougars.
BYU retained their No. 2 national ranking and entered conference play undefeated at 10-0 with eight wins over ranked teams. The Cougars swept No. 7 UCLA at home in their first league match of the year. Two days later de Brito Ferreira anchored a stiff BYU defense with a season-high seven blocks to give the Cougars a win over No. 8 Pepperdine, 3-1. The win marked Olmstead’s 100th career win as the men’s volleyball head coach and joined his former coach and BYU legend, Carl McGown, as the only two coaches to reach the milestone in program history.
After pulling off sweeps against Grand Canyon, Concordia and USC, the Cougars improved to 15-0 heading into their match against No. 13 Stanford. In front of a sold-out crowd of 5,817 and the highest-attended home match since 2005, BYU defeated the Cardinal in straight sets for its fifth-straight sweep. Jauhiainen led the way with seven blocks as the Cougars put on a blocking clinic with a season-high 15.5 team blocks in three sets.
The stage had been set for the battle of the two remaining undefeated teams in the country as No. 2 BYU headed to Honolulu to face No. 1 Hawai’i in a pair of matches. Winners of their first 14 matches, the Rainbow Warriors had only lost two sets all season and had maintained the No. 1 ranking since the preseason.
The Cougars jumped out to an early 10-3 lead in the first match behind a pair of aces by Garcia Fernandez and four kills by Gardini. BYU didn’t let up as they hit an errorless .706 in the first set while holding Hawai’i to a .000 hitting percentage to claim the first set 25-15. The Cougars kept the Rainbow Warriors below the 20-point threshold in the second set while sustaining their efficient attack with a .684 hitting percentage. Garcia Fernandez had four aces in the third game to match his career-high of eight aces and seal the dominating sweep to hand Hawai’i its first loss of the year. The Cougars finished with a .603 hitting percentage, the second-best hitting performance by a BYU team in the rally era and the eighth-best all-time in MPSF history.
The second match of the series started off like the first as the Cougars went up 2-0 over the Rainbow Warriors in front of a sold-out Stan Sheriff Center of 10,300. Hawai’i held off BYU in the third set and pulled off a late comeback in the fourth game to force set five. After falling behind 7-3, the Cougars surged back to knot the fifth game up at 9-all. BYU couldn’t capitalize down the stretch and the Rainbow Warriors' three-set rally gave the Cougars their first blemish of the season. Following his eight-ace performance the previous night, Garcia Fernandez added three more aces in the loss to set a new BYU single-season aces record with 56 aces on the year.
Despite dropping their first match of the season, the Cougars had won five of the eight sets against Hawai’i while on the road and jumped the Rainbow Warriors to claim the top spot in the AVCA Coaches Poll. Three days later on March 12, the NCAA canceled all of its winter and spring championships for the rest of the season due to the rapidly evolving circumstances related to the spread of COVID-19.
BYU finished the season 17-1 overall, 6-0 in the MPSF and No. 1 in the AVCA Coaches Poll.