After tasting a heavy dose of reality in its first season of intercollegiate volleyball competition, BYU returns for its second season in its strong league with a younger squad and more realistic expectations.
Oh, the Cougars did all right in some respects in their first year of NCAA competition, finishing 17th in the final Volleyball Monthly poll with a 12-25 overall record. And they led the talent- and tradition-rich Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (WIVA) in attendance, averaging a crowd of better than 1,550 in eight league home matches.But BYU had a league record of 1-15 and suffered through a season of admitted "unrealistic expectations," said Coach Carl McGown.
"I went at it all wrong last year," said McGown, who expected that BYU's previous successes in club-level competition and occasional victories over West Coast intercollegiate teams would result in the Cougars having a chance to be "a nice team."
But hindsight has taught McGown a lesson. "We can't expect to be one of the elite teams just like that," he said. "What I've learned is the league we're playing in is unbelievably competitive."
The WIVA is a two-division, 12-team league - the DeGroot Division includes BYU, UCLA, Pepperdine, Cal State-Northridge, UC-Santa Barbara and Cal State- Irvine; the Wilson Division is comprised of San Diego State, Southern California, Hawaii, Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount and Stanford.
Eight of the 12 WIVA teams were listed in Volleyball Monthly's preseason Top 10 - USC, first; UCLA, second; Long Beach State, third; Northridge, fourth; Pepperdine, fifth; Stanford, sixth; Santa Barbara, seventh; and Hawaii, ninth. BYU was listed among "others to watch" in Volleyball Monthly's preseason poll and in the top 15 in the magazines most recent poll.
To bolster his more realistic second-year approach to WIVA participation, McGown cites several league peers. Pepperdine has a national championship and a quality program to its credit, but the Wave ended last season with a losing record. Loyola Marymount finished with a No. 8 national ranking - and its own losing record. And Northridge, a league member for a decade, enjoyed its first year with a winning record - 8-8 in league play and 13-12 overall.
And 21 of the 24 players who comprised the U.S. Olympic teams that won gold medals in the 1984 and 1988 volleyball competition played in the WIVA.
The Cougars will be young - 6-foot-6 sophomore Shawn Patchell is one of only a handful of returnees from last year's team, with the middle blocker leading the team in hitting (.360 average) and blocking last season as a freshman. Setter Rodney Cortez and outside hitter Scott Waddell are the only seniors back - and they are being pressed at their positions by newcomers.
Since the California teams have the home-state edge on recruiting West Coast talent, McGown has gone great distances to bolster his roster with additions from beyond Utah and California - such as Oklahoma in the United States, as well as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. "At times, we could have two freshmen and four sophomores on the floor at a time," he said.
The newcomers include 6-5 freshman hitter Matt Galvin of California, 6-6 sophomore hitter Hugh McCutcheon of New Zealand, 6-5 freshman hitter Pat Sinclair of California, 6-2 sophomore setter Jason Watson of Australia, and 6- 6 freshman middle blocker Ethan Watts of Oklahoma. Galvin, Sinclair and reshirting freshman setter Scott Sjoquist, were listed as among the Fab 50 - the nation's top 50 high school-age players as ranked by Volleyball Monthly.
The young talent coming in to replace last year's senior-dominated team is encouraging to McGown as it becomes the nucleus for the future. However, a youth movement has its drawbacks, too. "I'm discouraged in a sense because in a sense we're starting over again for the second year."