The Cougars’ strong fan-base, ranked No. 1 in the nation in 2012, was a big draw for Sander, who has played in front of fans worldwide.
“The crowd here is something I always talk about,” Sander said. “You don’t play in front of any crowd like that anywhere else in America.”
When comparing his experiences on the national team to the BYU team, the biggest impression the national team has left on Sander is its unparalleled level of play and notes they never mess up. But back home on the BYU courts, camaraderie is what Sander treasures most.
“When you play at BYU, it involves more friendships and bonding,” Sander said. “Playing for your school is an amazing experience and feeling.”
Being a part of a team is something Sander enjoys most about the sport. Because of the springs in his feet, he often finds himself in the spotlight but always shrugs off the praise and is the first to highlight the ability of his teammates.
After being named an AVCA All-American as a sophomore, Sander credited his team for the award.
“It was nice to get that award, but you can’t get there without your team,” Sander said. “It’s a team thing, if our team didn’t do well, I wouldn’t have gotten that award. Volleyball is more about the team than any one individual.”
The recognition was still special for Sander, who looked up to past recipients as role models. This year, Sander aspires to be a mentor to younger players on the team. Pulling from valuable lessons from his experience playing on the national team, Sander looks to inspire and lead the Cougars.
“I’ve played now with some of the best players in the world,” Sander said. “I’ve seen how they interact on the court and in the training room and team meetings. I’ve seen the leadership at that level and that’s something I’m going to try to bring to BYU. I want to be a mentor to the younger players.”
The quiet and reserved power-hitter was not always comfortable with a leadership role, but men’s volleyball coach Chris McGown said he has progressed in terms of maturity.
“Even though he doesn’t necessarily want to be that guy everyone looks to, it inherently comes when you’re as good of a player as he is,” McGown said. “He’s beginning to understand the importance of it.”
Already one of the top players in the country, Sander continues to progress and improve not only as a leader but also as a player.
“I think he’s gotten a lot better in some areas, especially hitting, because of his ability to quickly make changes to his game,” McGown said. “He’s getting better and better as a player, not just because of his physicality, which is apparent, but because of his mental approach.”
Despite playing with Olympic athletes, being named an MVP on an international stage and joining the ranks of All-Americans as a sophomore, Sander’s parents remind him he’s just like everybody else.
“He receives so many accolades from family, friends, grandparents – our responsibility is to keep him grounded,” Kera Sander said. “He takes out the trash and makes his bed. There’s a balance between telling him he’s the best and keeping him grounded.”
Sander enjoys another sport many people wouldn’t guess because of his laid-back and easy-going personality– anything extreme.
“I love wakeboarding, dirt biking, all of it,” Sander said. “My dad and I are kind of fearless. I’m more careful now, though, because I’m so serious in volleyball.”
Sander’s seriousness when it comes to volleyball is something his BYU teammates are grateful for, including that he’s on their side of the net.
“Taylor is a once-in-a-generation type of player,” said teammate and close friend Jaylen Reyes. “Players as gifted and talented as him don’t come around much.”
McGown said team members find themselves smiling and shaking their heads, often muttering, ‘Did that just happen?’ when watching Sander perform.
After leading the Cougars last season with 435 kills, Sander prepares to lead the 2012 BYU squad to a dominant year in the MPSF before stepping close to his dream of representing the United States at the highest stage and winning an Olympic gold.
At only 20-years-old, Sander has achieved more than most volleyball players ever will and is poised to have another good season.
Whitney Weekes works in BYU Athletic Communications as the tennis sports information director. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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