PROVO — Opposing teams know they’re up against it the second they step on the Smith Fieldhouse floor.
The unique and intense atmosphere created by BYU’s loyal fans. The thin mountain air. And the fact that the BYU men's volleyball team is just plain good. All those things conspire to make the Cougars incredibly hard to beat on their home court.
“I’ll listen to interviews with other coaches, and they call this place the biggest home-court advantage in college men’s volleyball. So it’s fun to play here,” said BYU junior libero Jaylen Reyes.
The Cougars haven’t dropped a game at home since Feb. 1, 2013, when Long Beach State came out on top of a thrilling five-set contest. Since that loss, the team has won an incredible 24 straight — often in dominating and overwhelming fashion, much like Saturday’s wipeout of USC in the MPSF quarterfinals.
Against the Trojans, the Cougars enjoyed a big edge on serving the ball effectively — something quite common when playing in Provo’s relatively thin air.
“The dynamics of the ball flight are different,” said BYU coach Chris McGown. “So teams that normally serve heavy or their serve is a big part of the reason why they score points — suddenly that isn’t as big of a factor and they have to score points in other ways.”
As a result, it's typical to see BYU get off to quick starts while opposing teams try to adjust to the accelerated ball flight.
The second factor is simply the electric and unique atmosphere provided by the BYU faithful who show up in force for every home match.
“You can't overstate the crowd factor,” McGown said. “The energy that gets poured into our team and the amount of pressure it puts on our opponents when our fans are going nuts ... that’s the other thing that is huge for us is the crowd energy.”
McGown believes his team will need to take every advantage of being inside the Smith Fieldhouse to get by Santa Barbara Thursday night in the MPSF semifinals. The Gauchos provided the Cougars with their toughest test at home back on March 28, taking the match to five sets before coming up just short.
Santa Barbara defeated UCLA in five sets in the quarterfinals last Saturday and handed the Cougars a loss to end the regular season on April 11.
“They’re good everywhere,” McGown said of the Gauchos.
Should BYU defeat Santa Barbara Thursday, the general consensus is BYU would receive an at-large bid to the six-team NCAA championship. Regardless, McGown wants to leave nothing to chance.
"I like my position, if I am any of us that are playing right now," he said. "But like I said, we don’t want to put that into the committee’s hands. We want to win the conference tournament outright."
Should BYU win Thursday it will meet the winner of Stanford vs. Pepperdine in the night's other semifinal match. BYU's match against Santa Barbara starts at 8 p.m. MDT and will be televised live on BYUtv.