PROVO — USC may have been welcomed to the Smith Fieldhouse Saturday night in Provo, but there would be no Trojan Horse as the BYU's men's volleyball team was ready for anything and everything thrown at it en route to a straight set victory (25-14, 25-15, 26-24).
BYU seemed to be firing on all cylinders for Senior Night and on the road to postseason success, but there is room for improvement, according to head coach Chris McGown.
“The message we gave to the guys was twofold,” McGown said. “We said this is wonderful watching the way you guys have played lately, the last four or five weeks we feel like we keep getting better. And that was the second point, we said there’s still some upside to this team. We haven’t tapped the entirety of how good we can be. And so we talked about it, get back to work Monday, let’s get back to work. There were a few plays that we didn’t execute, we need to clean things up and get a few more reps and get better at executing a bunch of little things, but I like the way we are playing and it feels like we are continuing to get better.”
McGown has been preaching all season that his team needed to continually improve and be playing its best as the season begins to wind down, and his Cougars appear to be doing just that.
“Just about everything (was working), we played a really complete match. I thought we were great offensively, we held them to a pretty low hitting percentage (.171). We sided out at a really high level, we dug the ball well, we blocked the ball well, I think we made it really difficult for them to get anything going on offense. I think we are starting to put together a string of nice matches where we play pretty complete volleyball, it’s been pretty fun,” McGown said.
“I think we are really starting to feel it offensively. I feel like we’ve got confidence at every position, because we can attack from a lot of different positions, I think it makes it tough on teams to defend against us.”
While Saturday’s match may have technically been the final home contest for BYU’s seniors, it doesn’t even register as a possibility for McGown. When asked what the win meant for his seniors, McGown minimized any significance.
“Not a lot to be honest with you,” McGown said. “Because we plan on being back here, this isn’t the last match we expect to play in the fieldhouse. We expect to host a tournament game, and there’s a lot of volleyball left to be played over the next two weeks. But we feel like we’ve put ourselves in a good position to host the MPSF tournament if we keep playing this way.”
Freshman Ben Patch has been a work in progress who has polished up quite nicely for BYU and may have stolen the show with the play of the night.
“There was a play, maybe in the second set where (Ryan) Boyce threw a ball all the way across the court to him (Patch) that was a little bit tight, and Ben jumped from behind the three meter line and took it down the line. I don’t know how many people realized what an athletic play that was to take a ball that was set cross court, putting it down the line and chasing it that high. It actually gave me chills, I saw that and Rob (Neilson) and I looked at each other and just went — wow!” McGown said.
Aside from the athleticism the Cougars displayed, the fire to compete has been the hallmark for this year's squad.
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“I think more than anything that’s the proudest I am of these guys, just how ritualized working hard has become,” McGown said. “They don’t know anything else other than, here’s a volleyball match and we are going to go after it as hard as we can. We don’t care who we’re playing, we don’t care where we are playing, we are just going to go really hard, and that’s been fun to see.”
BYU will travel to Southern California to take on UC Santa Barbara and UCLA next weekend as it preps for the MPSF tournament that tips off April 20.
Jonathan Boldt is a sports writing intern for the Deseret News covering the Utah Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @jboldt24 — www.boldted.com